When considering what we can do to keep our families healthy, few things match the effectiveness of vaccination. In fact, the benefits and safety of vaccines have never been clearer. However, some parents have reservations about taking children for their shots, which leaves our most vulnerable at risk. To clear things up, we asked IBX Medical Director Dr. Anna Baldino for her best advice to prepare both parents and children for the little pinch that can save their lives.
How would you describe to a new parent how vaccines work?
Your body needs to build protection from certain organisms, say, tetanus or pertussis. When you get a vaccine, you’re getting a substance that stimulates the body to manufacture a defense against the infection. This substance may be a modified version of the threatening microbe or a small amount of material that is very similar to the microbe. These cause your body to build an army of protection against the invader.
What would you say to parents who have reservations against vaccinating their children?
It has been proven that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, or the preservative it contains is not harmful. I immunized my children — you practice what you preach, right? I felt very comfortable knowing that these vaccines were safe. If they weren’t safe, we wouldn’t be giving them to children, especially to our very young children.
Why do parents of babies have to be vaccinated as well?
It’s important that everybody do their share. We try to make sure that any adults who live in a household with a newborn get the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine (Tdap) vaccine to avoid spreading any of these serious infections to the newborn. This includes, parents, grandparents, and anyone else who will come in contact with their baby.
Babies get their first vaccines at two months, but they’re not yet fully protected. It’s giving them some immunity — building their army — but they’re not quite there yet. If the parents have done their job, all of the siblings will be immunized. It’s the adults who are susceptible to becoming a carrier.
What about older children? How can parents prepare them?
Basically, you talk to them. Try to explain that the vaccine is given to keep you healthy, and it’s just going to be a little pinch, it won’t hurt afterwards. And then maybe promise them something small after, like a coloring book…we don’t want to break the bank.
Remember, just because they’re a child, they’re still a person, and you want them to feel comfortable.
What has changed in vaccine technology since you started practicing in the mid-’80s?
We’ve got so many more vaccines. The immunization schedule has changed dramatically — and that’s a good thing, because with each new vaccine you see less and less of the illness it protects against. For example, when I first went in to practice, in the mid-’80s, there was a serious brain infection caused by haemophilus influenza bacteria. There was no vaccine available at that time. I remember we had about six or seven kids in the hospital with meningitis from this organism. That’s scary. Very scary. Since the haemophilus influenza vaccine came out, known as the HiB vaccine, there are hardly any cases now.
What are some common side effects of vaccination?
Certainly pain and swelling at the site are common. Maybe a little fever or fussiness. But I wouldn’t expect a fever greater than 102-103, irritability that you can’t console, lethargy or sleeping all the time. Any of those reactions would be a concern and reason to call your doctor.
Just be gentle with the thigh or arm that was injected. Generally, within a day or two, they’ll be back to their old, playful self.
Do you have any tips for helping kids overcome fear of needles?
I had lots of distractions for my patients. I mean, you name it, I’ve done it. Sometimes we would distract the child by looking for Elmo around the office. I always wore a little toy around my stethoscope to use as a distraction for the exam and for the shot. It worked for the most part.
Please note: Content on IBX Insights is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.
Dr. Anna Baldino is a board-certified pediatrician. She graduated from Drexel University with a B.S. in Nutrition Science, and from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine with a Doctor of Osteopathy degree. She completed her pediatric residency at the UMDNJ-Osteopathic School of Medicine. Before joining Independence Blue Cross as a Medical Director in 2004, she was an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, UMDNJ Department of Pediatrics. As part of her duties, she provided medical care to migrant worker children, to children at the local health departments, and to a local school district. Dr. Baldino is a fellow of the AAP and ACOP.