As parents, we want to protect our children. It’s what we do. And out of all the ways to keep them safe and healthy, few are as easy as making sure they get all recommended vaccines on the immunization schedule from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Thanks to childhood vaccines, illnesses like measles, mumps, tetanus, and polio were vastly reduced or eliminated in the United States. But recently some highly contagious and vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, have made a comeback in certain regions, including areas of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. According to the CDC, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases of measles in the United States as of June 1, 2019 — nearly three times the total number of cases for all of 2018.
And the United States is not alone. There is a record number of measles cases in Europe. As a result, the CDC recommends that travelers are up-to-date on all recommended vaccines, including the measles vaccine, and that parents discuss their travel plans and immunization strategies with their child’s pediatrician.
The benefits and safety of childhood vaccines have never been clearer; however, some parents have reservations about taking children for their shots, which leaves our most vulnerable at risk. Keep in mind that infants and some children with weakened immune systems are not vaccinated.
To help clear things up, we asked Independence Medical Director Dr. Stephen Higgins for his take on kids getting recommended vaccines and what to expect after that little pinch.
How would you describe how vaccines work?
When you get a vaccine, you’re getting a substance that causes your body to build a defense against that infection — for example, tetanus or measles. This helps your body prepare to fight that disease in the future if you’re exposed to it. Vaccines are also important on a community level. Some people are too young or have a weakened immune system and therefore aren’t eligible to get recommended vaccines. But if they’re surrounded by others who are vaccinated, they’re less likely to come into contact with the disease.
What would you say to parents who are concerned about childhood vaccinations?
There are good parents out there who are hesitant about having their children vaccinated — due in large part to the misbelief that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine can cause autism. If vaccines weren’t safe, they wouldn’t be given to children — especially to our very young children. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have reviewed extensive research that proves the safety and effectiveness of childhood vaccines, including the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine is even endorsed by Autism Speaks, a group dedicated to helping individuals with autism and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions.
Why must parents of babies be vaccinated as well?
Babies get their first vaccines at two months, so they have some immunity but aren’t fully protected. Any adults who will come into frequent contact with the baby, including parents, grandparents, and others, should get the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine (Tdap) vaccine to avoid spreading these serious infections to the newborn. If all older siblings are already immunized the risk of transmitting diseases like diphtheria (whooping cough) to the newest member of the family should be minimal.
What are some common side effects of getting a vaccine?
It’s common for your kids to have some pain and swelling at the injection site. Just be gentle with their thigh or arm that was injected. Generally, within a day or two, they’ll be back to their playful selves. You may notice some fussiness or a low-grade fever, but you shouldn’t see a high fever, irritability that you can’t console, lethargy, or sleeping all the time. Any of these reactions would be a concern and reason to call your doctor.
Do you have any tips for helping kids stay calm when it comes to getting a vaccine?
Pediatricians are exceptional at creating a friendly environment for families, which can help put both parents and children at ease. A skilled pediatrician will inform the child honestly about how the immunization is given and how it will feel. That — in combination with an interesting distraction, such as a funny toy on the stethoscope or engaging in conversation — generally works well.
Information on this site 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. Stephen Higgins MD, FAAP graduated from Hahnemann Medical School (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in 1989 and went on to train as a Pediatrician and Neonatologist at DuPont Hospital for Children/Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He spent most of his career as a Neonatologist at Crozer Chester Medical Center where he worked clinically in neonatal intensive care. He was actively involved in medical education rising to the level of Associate Dean at Crozer for Temple Medical School and more recently as the Associate Dean for Drexel’s Clinical Campus at Crozer. In addition to his role as Associate Dean, was the Chief Academic Officer and Pediatric Residency Director at Crozer before joining the Independence Blue Cross family in April of 2019. He is passionate about medical education and recently completed a medical mission in Salima Malawi, teaching Interns and Nurses at the Salima District Hospital.