As adults, there are lots of things that we can do to protect our health. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and having a support system can help us keep our bodies and minds healthy. But for infants to stay healthy, they must rely on adults to make the right choices. One of those choices is to make sure your child gets all recommended immunizations.
It isn’t an understatement to say that immunization (vaccination) is one of the biggest health achievements of the last century. Prior to vaccinations, many diseases often resulted in serious complications or even death. Vaccines eliminated or drastically reduced many life-threatening diseases.
Routine Infant Immunizations
The body’s immune system helps fight infection. Most adults have well-developed immune systems, but infants do not. A minor illness for an adult could potentially be serious or even fatal for an infant. Vaccines help boost an infant’s immune system against certain viruses that could create lifelong complications. Delaying vaccinations can put babies at risk when they are most vulnerable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the routine immunization schedule is “based on how your child’s immune system responds to vaccines at various ages, and how likely your baby is to be exposed to a particular disease. This ensures your little one is protected from potentially serious diseases at exactly the right time.”
These are some of the vaccinations that have made a big difference in the lives of children over the past few decades:
- Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is a disease caused by a virus. The virus can damage the liver and lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver (known as cirrhosis) or even cancer. Infants and children younger than five years of age are at particular risk because the younger you are when you get hepatitis B, the higher the risk of it becoming a long-term, chronic condition. In the early 1990s, the hepatitis B vaccine was added to the recommended infant immunization schedule. Since then, the rate of hepatitis B infection has declined about 90 percent.
- Rotavirus. Diarrheal diseases, like rotavirus, are one of the leading causes of child mortality in the world. When I was a younger physician, I treated many babies who were very sick from rotavirus (watery diarrhea). It’s commonly spread in childcare settings, hospitals, and among families. It can be a major health problem for infants because it is very easy for them to get dehydrated. In fact, prior to the vaccine, almost all U.S. children were infected with the rotavirus at some point before their fifth birthday. Since the rotavirus vaccine was introduced, it has prevented 40,000 to 50,000 hospitalizations a year.
- Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib). Hib disease is a serious illness caused by Haemophilus influenzae, a type of bacteria. Children younger than five years old are most at risk for Hib disease, with infants being the most vulnerable. It can cause lifelong disability, permanent hearing loss, and intellectual or motor difficulties. In 1987, the Hib vaccine began protecting children against the diseases caused by Hib, including meningitis (the most common type of Hib disease), pneumonia, and more. Today, fewer than 50 cases of Hib disease are reported in young children in the U.S. each year. Most of these infections are in children who have not been vaccinated.
- Polio. Polio is a very contagious and life-threatening disease caused by a virus. If the virus gets in the spinal cord, it can cause paralysis and death. Polio most often affects children under the age of five. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was a serious polio outbreak in the U.S. Thousands of people died or were disabled, businesses closed, travel was brought to a standstill, and parents were afraid to send their children outside. When a polio vaccine was finally introduced in the 1950s, it was highly effective. The U.S. has been nearly polio-free for more than 30 years. But the threat hasn’t disappeared. Polio is still very much present in other parts of the world. In fact, according to the CDC, “It would only take one person with polio traveling from another country to bring polio back to the United States.”
The Impact of COVID-19 on Routine Infant Immunizations
Unfortunately, routine infant immunizations declined nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people stayed home and skipped routine doctor appointments in 2020, resulting in a 26 percent drop in routine infant immunizations. This can put communities at risk. We are starting to see outbreaks of diseases that are no longer common in the U.S. — like measles and whooping cough — due to dropping vaccination rates in some pockets of the country, like New York City and suburban areas in the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, Philadelphia’s immunization rates remain steady.
That’s why it’s so important for parents to follow the routine infant immunization schedule. And, you can feel confident knowing that this schedule has been designed and reviewed by hundreds of the country’s top doctors, public health professionals, and scientists to ensure its safety and effectiveness. The bottom line? Getting your child vaccinated is one of the best things you can do to protect their health.
Independence Has Your Child Covered
To help ensure your child stays safe and healthy, be sure to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics schedule for routine well-child visits.
Independence Blue Cross (Independence) health plans provide coverage for well-child visits, developmental screenings, lead testing, vaccinations, and more! To learn about benefits for enrolled dependents, call the number on the back of your member ID card or log into ibx.com and navigate to the benefits tab. Independence Registered Nurse Health Coaches are also available 24/7 to answer your questions and provide support.
If you have any concerns about the recommended infant immunization schedule, vaccinations, or potential side effects, or if your child is behind on their vaccinations, talk to your child’s doctor.