By Anna Acosta, MD
Most parents agree that feeding and sleep schedules are important to help keep their young babies healthy. The same goes for childhood immunizations. Vaccinating children on time is the best way to protect them against 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases before their second birthday.
The recommended immunization schedule is designed to offer protection early in life, when babies are vulnerable and before it’s likely they will be exposed to diseases.
Public health and medical experts base their vaccine recommendations on many factors. They study information about diseases and vaccines very carefully to decide which vaccines kids should get and when they should get them for best protection.
Although the number of vaccines a child needs in the first two years may seem like a lot, doctors know a great deal about the human immune system, and they know that a healthy baby’s immune system can handle getting all vaccines when they are recommended. When parents are thinking about delaying vaccines, I tell them that there is no known benefit to delaying vaccination. In fact, it puts babies at risk of getting sick because they are left vulnerable to catch serious diseases during the time they are not protected by vaccines.
Parents may think that many of these diseases no longer exist in this country, but many still can and do occur across the United States. For example, in 2012, we had more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) reported to the CDC, and many more cases go unreported. We know that little babies are most vulnerable to this disease. During that same year, 16 babies died. In 2013, 189 were reported to have measles in the United States. Staying on track with the immunization schedule ensures that children have the best protection against diseases like these by age two.
Parents who are concerned about the number of shots given at one time can reduce the number given at a visit by using the flexibility built into the recommended immunization schedule. For example, the third dose of hepatitis B vaccine can be given at 6 through 18 months of age. Parents can work with their child’s doctor to have their child get this dose at any time during that age range.
Some children may get off schedule because their parents are concerned about vaccines when their child is sick. Usually, a mild illness (like a cold or ear infection) is not a reason to reschedule vaccinations. Your child’s doctor can help you decide which vaccines your child can still receive safely.
Always talk to your child’s doctor or nurse if you have any questions about vaccines or staying on schedule. Getting children all the vaccines they need by age two is one of the best things parents can do to help keep their children safe and healthy. For more information about vaccines, go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents.
Anna Acosta, MD is a medical epidemiologist with the Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.