Vaccines for young adults? It’s not just about you.

imageLet’s be honest. As young adults prepare to enter college, immunizations are not generally the first thing that comes to mind. They are young and healthy, fresh out of high school, and excited for a new adventure. Often times, they feel invincible – like they could take over the world. (Oh, to be young again!) Many young adults do not feel that vaccinations are something that applies to them.

In reality, the need for vaccination does not end when your childhood does. Vaccines are recommended throughout an adult’s life based on age, lifestyle, job, travel, health conditions and vaccines you received as a child. Even healthy young adults can contract (and get very sick from) vaccine-preventable diseases. Too few young adults are receiving the recommended vaccines, leaving themselves and their loved ones vulnerable to serious diseases.

Thanks to social media, and our culture’s current obsession with “selfies,” it’s easy to see why this generation of young adults thinks: “it’s all about me.” When it comes to vaccinations, the complete opposite is actually true. It’s NOT all about you.

Think about it. Young adults might not be the most at-risk for severe disease themselves, but they are likely to be in contact with those who are, such as:

  • Aging parents or grandparents
  • Very young nieces/nephews/cousins
  • Pregnant friends or relatives

Not to mention, this age group is likely to be in crowded living conditions (like college dorms) or come into contact with massive amounts of people every day on mass transit, in offices or in stuffy lecture halls.

Everyone older than 6 months should get the flu vaccine every year. Yet only about 1 in 3 adults under the age of 50 do. This matters because even if they don’t feel sick themselves, young adults are prime candidates for transporting disease to other people.

So what vaccines might a young adult need?

Tdap Vaccine:

  • One dose of Tdap is recommended if you have never received it after age 18.
  • After receiving that first dose of Tdap vaccine, a Td vaccine is recommended once every 10 years.

HPV Vaccine:

  • Three doses of HPV vaccine protect against the most common types of human papilloma virus known to cause cancer later in life. The vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year olds, but if young adults never received it, they have until they’re 26 to get the vaccine.

Meningococcal Vaccine:

  • Some states require students entering colleges and universities to be vaccinated against certain diseases like meningococcal disease. This is due to the slightly increased risk of contracting these diseases in close quarters like residence halls.

And of course, last but not least, the flu vaccine.

When my daughter came home from the hospital in the midst of flu season, I remember being so scared to come into contact with someone who had not gotten their flu shot, because her immune system was so weak. As a healthy adult, it is your responsibility to remain up-to-date on your adult vaccinations, to protect others who cannot protect themselves.

Remember, it’s not just about you! The vulnerable populations in our communities depend on you to keep them healthy too.

Reorganize The To Do List: Make Vaccines A Priority For Your Family


This blog post originally appeared on the Texas Children’s Blog on August 11, 2014. It has been reposted with permission from the author.


As parents, we are bombarded every day with responsibilities, chores, and decisions.  What’s for dinner? Did I set the trash out for pick up? Should I sign my daughter up for gymnastics or soccer? It’s a never-ending stream, some more important than others, that often leaves us feeling as if we are barely treading water.

For new parents, all of the preparation that goes into having a baby is overwhelming so it’s natural to focus on the big things – what kind of car seat to buy, picking a name, and taking that labor and delivery class.

For parents of multiple children, we prioritize and let certain things fall to the wayside – feed kids, bath kids, get homework done, pick up diapers, you get the idea. As a working mother of two active little girls, I understand the balancing act that many parents face.  There simply isn’t time for everything.

Wherever you are in your parenting journey – it’s easy to let a “chore” like getting vaccinated fall low on the proverbial “to do” list.  It’s human nature to tell ourselves, “My child won’t get sick,” or “We can push it off for awhile.” Or maybe it’s not on your “to do” list at all.  Maybe you tell yourself, “If my child or I get a vaccine-preventable disease, it’s not that big of a deal.” Well, is it really that simple? Let’s think this through.

You or your child could be the one who gets sick.  And yes, it could be a big deal.

Let me explain why:

Currently, the U.S. is experiencing a resurgence of pertussis, or “whooping cough.”  Right about now you may be thinking – “isn’t whooping cough a disease that my grandparent’s had?” Yes, they very likely did and sadly, it’s a disease that’s making a comeback.

Last year, Texas experienced the highest number of pertussis cases since 1959.  In other words, for the first time in more than 50 years, Texas reported 3,985 cases, 5 of which resulted in death. So far this year, we are on track to report even more cases with nearly 1,400 cases reported to date, 2 of which have resulted in death.

Texas isn’t alone. Outbreaks are occurring throughout the U.S., including California, which declared an epidemic after reporting more than 800 new cases in just the first two weeks of June and 6,170 cases since January 1st.

Sadly, infants are the ones who suffer the most from this devastating disease.  The 6 deaths in Texas in the last two years all occurred in infants less than 3 months of age. Of the 3,985 cases in 2013, 11% were hospitalized, 40% of those hospitalizations were in children less than 1 year of age.  Moreover, babies are most likely to contract this disease from their mother.

This brings me to my first point – get vaccinated. The best way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination. Currently, it is recommended that all adults receive a single lifetime dose of the pertussis booster vaccine, Tdap, unless you had one as an adolescent (after age 11). Pregnant women should receive a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy.

Many parents underestimate the importance of vaccination. For expecting parents, it may seem counterintuitive to get vaccinated when you are avoiding many other medications.  But in fact, getting certain vaccines during pregnancy, including Tdap, is strongly recommended.  Getting vaccinated with Tdap during pregnancy protects both the mother and infant.

This brings me to my second point –we vaccinate not only to protect ourselves but to protect others, especially those who can’t protect themselves.

If you’re an expecting parent, new parent, parent of multiples, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even a friend to someone with small children, please, make it a priority to get vaccinated.  If not for yourself, then for those you know who may not be able to protect themselves.  Sadly, for the 4 infants who died from pertussis in Texas, none of the mothers were immunized.

It is recommended that pregnant women receive a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks.  Infants should receive a dose of DTaP at 2, 4, 6, and 15 months with a booster at 4-6 years.  Adolescents are recommended to get their booster dose of Tdap at 11-12 years.  And adults who have never received a dose of a pertussis-containing vaccine should receive a dose of Tdap.

As parents, we protect our children whenever we can.  We would never be too busy to buckle the car seat or to put on a life vest.  Please make protecting your child through vaccination a priority.  Prevent what’s preventable and immunize – on time, every time.

To learn more about Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research, visit here.

Rachel Cunningham, MPH, is the primary author of Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story. She is also the Immunization Registry and Educational Specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Immunization Project. Her focus is primarily on educating health professionals and parents about the importance of vaccines. She’s been at Texas Children’s Hospital since 2007.

Back to School: Immunized at Every Age

school suppliesAs summer comes to a close, parents of young children prepare a mental checklist to get ready for “Back to School” season. Gather school supplies (check), do a little shopping (check), meet the child’s new teacher (check), and organize the family for their new fall routine. It’s also the perfect time to make sure your kids are up to date on their vaccinations.

Most schools require children to be immunized before enrolling or starting school in order to protect the health of all students, so parents should ensure their kids have had all the school’s required vaccinations before the first day. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the required school vaccinations, parents should also consider the entire list of recommended vaccinations for their kids to make sure they are completely protected. Schools are a prime location for transmitting vaccine-preventable diseases because kids are in such close contact with one another throughout the day, and you wouldn’t want your child to be vulnerable to a disease because he or she wasn’t fully vaccinated.

So just what is the difference between required and recommended vaccinations? Are required vaccines more important than those that are simply recommended? For example, the meningitis and Tdap vaccines are required for teens enrolling in school in the state of Texas. The flu and HPV vaccines are not required, but are recommended for this same age group. Does this mean that immunizing against HPV is any less important than immunizing against meningitis? In short – no.

Recommended vaccines are part of a comprehensive list published by the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices). The committee is comprised of medical and public health professionals, many of which have expertise in vaccinology, immunology, pediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, family medicine, virology, public health, infectious diseases, and/or preventive medicine. They meet multiple times during the year to review the latest vaccine safety information and information on new vaccines or vaccine technologies.

Required vaccines are often determined by school entry laws passed by the state legislature, or in some cases, by regulatory bodies, like health departments, who have been given the power to require certain vaccines. Some recommended vaccines are not required, but that doesn’t make them any less important. It just means that the state legislature or state health department (on the authority of the state legislature) has not yet mandated that they be required for kids to attend school.

Flu vaccine is a good example of an extremely important vaccine that’s often not required for school entry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and estimated 38 million school days are lost every year due to the flu. As we mentioned last week [link to last Friday’s post], flu kills an average of 23,000 Americans every year – more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. A total of 106 children have died from the flu so far in the 2013-2014 flu season in the United States.

Flu vaccine might not be required, but it’s certainly important.

The ACIP recommends children ages 4 to 6 should receive boosters of four vaccines: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), chickenpox, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and polio. All 11-12 year olds should receive the Tdap vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine, and the HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV. Everyone 6 months and older should get flu vaccines annually.

And remember, these vaccines don’t just protect your child. They protect your family and any other families you may come into contact with, including younger siblings and elderly grandparents.

So, if you haven’t done so already, double check your child’s immunization records or schedule a visit to their pediatrician’s office. Getting prepared now will avoid a last minute rush and will contribute to the health of your child, and that of their classmates and community.

To see a vaccination schedule for ages 7-18, click here

To create a personalized schedule for your teen or preteen click here

For more general information about vaccines, and vaccine-preventable diseases, check out The Immunization Partnership’s resource page.

Ebola Outbreak Stark Reminder to Prevent What’s Preventable

If you’ve been watching the news at all in the past two weeks, then you probably are aware that two Americans contracted the Ebola virus and have been transported to the US for treatment.  And, even though a person cannot become infected with Ebola without coming into contact with bodily fluids of an infected individual, the thought of this virus spreading in the United States has sparked fear across the nation.

Ebola has killed more than 930 people this year globally since March, including countless healthcare workers and Sierra Leone’s leading doctor.  As we watch in horror the gruesome devastation Ebola inflicts on children and adults, our hearts break, and we hope for an Ebola virus vaccine to be developed quickly. Unfortunately, one probably won’t be available until 2015. Why so far away when we need it so desperately?

One reason is the high level of safety standards we have for vaccines here in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating vaccines in the US.  The vaccine licensing process is extraordinarily rigorous –starting from the first step called “investigational new drug application,” through 3-phased clinical trials with thousands of participants and reviews by medical and scientific experts, and then on to inspections of the manufacturing facilities and continual assessments weighing the benefits of the vaccine with any side effects or risks associated with it.

This meticulous sequence takes years, but it matters because the success of immunization programs hinges on a strong safety record for vaccines. It is because of this process that we can say confidently that vaccines are not only effective, but safe for our children as well. In fact, your child has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than having a severe reaction to the measles, mumps and rubella combination vaccine (MMR).

The development of an Ebola virus vaccine will follow the same daunting (but necessary) process as the vaccines our children receive for polio, pertussis and the rest – diseases that also once sparked great fear and concern in the hearts and minds of parents. And in the case of some diseases like measles and influenza, still do.

Measles is still a leading cause of death in small children worldwide. In 2012, roughly 122,000 people died from measles globally. Influenza kills an average of 23,000 people every year in the US alone. While an Ebola virus vaccine is still beyond our reach, we should take comfort in the knowledge that we are now able to protect our children from more devastating diseases than ever before in human history. And because of the rigorous process by which we secure and assess safety, and advances in vaccine technology, the vaccines we have are safer than they’ve ever been.

So as our thoughts and concerns are with those affected by this terrible Ebola outbreak, let’s continue to encourage and educate our friends on the benefits of the life-saving vaccines we do have.  Immunize.  Prevent what’s preventable!

Vaccine-proud Parent: ‘Share our trust in vaccines early and often’

By Dawn Crawford

I’m the perfect candidate to be a vaccine-hesitant mom. I do some serious, deep online research before I buy anything. I go to WebMD with every weird ache or set of combined symptoms. I read…a lot. I read opinions, I read reviews, I read social media comments. I believe in the scientific method – isolate variables and test for results.

Dawn Crawford and her daughter

Dawn Crawford and her daughter

But I’m not a vaccine-hesitant mom because I met people who cared. I met people who care about kids enough to go to battle for childhood vaccines every day. I met people who had the knowledge and information to sooth my concerns.

In 2008, I was hired as the new Communications Manager at the Colorado Children Immunization Coalition and started my path to become a vaccine warrior. I was on the front lines working to inform parents about the power of vaccines. I was a trusted companion to help parents through a sometimes tough and scary decision to vaccinate their child.

Since then I’ve crafted immunization messaging and created campaigns for public health nonprofits across the country. I know my vaccine science. I’m a true believer.

But it wasn’t until I had my own baby in 2012 that I fully realized just how much trust goes into the decision to vaccinate your baby. They are so perfect when they come into the world. A little squished maybe, but perfect. The thought of bringing any harm is tough. The thought of trusting the science and the knowledge is tough. I found myself thinking, “Jeez, I hope the science is right.”

A parent’s decision about vaccines should never be taken lightly. It’s a personal decision to do what is best for your child. As a vaccine-proud parent, we need to share our trust in vaccines early and often. We need to make sure we have the “vaccine talk” with our pregnant friends and be open to all concerns. We need to ask our parents and other caretakers if they are fully vaccinated. We all need to celebrate parents for posting Instagram photos of their just vaccinated kiddo.

There are a lot of great resources to help inform yourself about the power of vaccines. Make sure to check out these great nonprofit campaigns:

Vaccination isn’t a clear choice for all parents. Parents are searching for the best thing to do for their child. Sharing your trust and knowledge in vaccines will help others make a decision.

Now, I’m going to go hug my fully vaccinated 19-month old because I know I made a great decision to protect her the best way I can.

Dawn is an independent consultant with BC/DC Ideas. She has served in various communications leadership roles for the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, Exempla Healthcare and the Kempe Foundation

What does “vaccinated” look like?

Although being a parent is a huge responsibility, it is also a huge opportunity to raise a healthy, happy child and explore the world through their eyes.  What a gift!

We all want what is best for our children, and making an educated choice to vaccinate is critical to protecting their health.  The facts speak for themselves – immunizations protect your family, your community, and those too young or sick to be vaccinated from unnecessary illness and suffering.  When you vaccinate your child, you are giving them the best “shot” (pun intended!) at a strong and healthy future.

Simply put, immunizations save lives, and vaccinating your child is something to be very proud of.  We asked our readers to send in pictures of their fully vaccinated children, and we are thrilled to introduce them to you.  This is what “vaccinated” looks like!  Enjoy!

“Think Again,” When It Comes to Viral Hepatitis

Do you know which vaccine your baby received on the day he/she was born? Hepatitis B. The first dose is given to babies on their day of birth – so it must be pretty important, right? Right! But how much do you know about Hepatitis B…or the four other types for that matter? Monday is World Hepatitis Day, so we thought it would be appropriate to educate our readers about the dangers and prevention of this disease.

Let’s review the basics. There are five different types of hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E. All of these viruses cause short term, or acute infection. However the hepatitis B, C and D viruses can also cause long-term infection, called chronic hepatitis. Here are the “cliff’s notes” about each type of hepatitis:

Hepatitis A: the most acute virus of the three, it often presents like a stomach bug. While the hepatitis A vaccine is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule, many adults have not been vaccinated.

Hepatitis B: a very hearty virus, can live outside of the body for at least seven days (and on household objects like toothbrushes and razors), an infected mother can pass it to her baby at birth, and when kids are infected, it is much more dangerous than adults because they can develop a chronic infection that can lead to liver cancer. Many people are infected with hepatitis B virus and don’t have any symptoms, but they can still pass it on to other people. The virus is transmitted through blood or other body fluids. Vaccination is part of the routine childhood schedule and is also available for adults.

Hepatitis C: a virus that the body is unable to clear by itself, so infection typically becomes chronic. It is mainly spread through blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccination available.

Hepatitis D: found in individuals infected with Hepatitis B, this type is spread through contact with infected blood. There is currently no antiviral therapy or vaccination available.

Hepatitis E: spread through eating food or drinking water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. A vaccine exists but is not available in the United States.

So, you may be asking – how does this apply to me (and my child), and what can I do to protect my family from hepatitis? Well, first and foremost – you can make sure your family is vaccinated! This is the simplest and most powerful way to provide protection against Hepatitis A and B. The CDC recommends three doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine (given at birth, 2 months and between 6-18 months) and two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine (given six months apart starting at 12-23 months.) Adults can get them, too!

And finally, because it’s much more fun to watch finger-puppets sing about hepatitis prevention than read about it…

Most people have no idea how prevalent viral hepatitis is (one in 12 people around the world are living with chronic viral hepatitis), and often because there is a stigma attached to the virus, it is misunderstood. In reality, it is a risk to us all. Thankfully, Hepatitis A and B can be prevented thanks to vaccinations. If you think your family is safe without a vaccination, please think again.

To visit the “Wall of Stories” where those affected by hepatitis have shared their personal experiences, click here.

Measles – Recognizing the Signs

MeaslesTravelFlyerMy husband and I just returned from a phenomenal trip to Mexico celebrating one year of parenthood – we survived! As much as we missed our baby girl, it was so great to get away together. We returned feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. As we made our way through customs after landing in Houston, I began to notice how many nationalities surrounded us. At a large international airport (like the one here), it’s not unusual to see a great number of countries represented as everyone debarks their planes and enters the U.S.

The lines were long, and as we slowly snaked along, something caught my eye. It was two large signs displayed very prominently. One asked “Do you know how to recognize measles?” and the other read “Get vaccinated against measles.” Trying my best not to be obvious, I began casually looking around to see if any travelers around me had a suspicious rash on their neck. (Yikes!) Simultaneously, I felt relief wash over me – I was so happy that my daughter wasn’t with us. Even though she received her MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) a few weeks ago, I still wouldn’t want her to be exposed if someone in line had measles. As unlikely as that scenario probably was, the protective mother in me came out again.

Measles was not something I thought about much, until this past year. I thought it was a disease from the “olden days” that had pretty much been wiped out, thanks to vaccinations. But when my daughter was born, and I became hypersensitive to contagious diseases and germs, suddenly I began hearing about measles all the time. There would be a story on the evening news about an outbreak in Ohio, or a friend would post an article on Facebook about increased cases in California. Now, at least once a week, I hear something about the increasing problem of measles cases in our country. As I mentioned in this post, I counted down the days until Stella got her MMR vaccine, and felt so thankful to have easy access to it – sometimes we forget how lucky we are to live in a country where vaccines are readily available.

So, back to the signs at the airport. Do you know how to recognize measles? Symptoms generally begin about 7-14 days after a person is infected, and include:

• Blotchy rash
• Fever
• Cough
• Runny nose
• Red, watery eyes
• Feeling run down, achy
• Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth

Three to five days after the start of symptoms, a red or reddish-brown rash appears. The rash usually begins on a person’s face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’d like to see examples of the characteristic rash, you can find images of measles here.

If you think your child might have measles, please (for the sake of those too young or too sick to be vaccinated) CALL your provider’s office or the emergency room before you go to let them know you suspect measles, so that they may prepare for you, and prevent it from spreading to other patients. The measles virus is spread through respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, kisses, talking, etc.), and can live in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected indiPrintvidual has left the room. It is one of the most contagious diseases to affect humans — so contagious that 90% of people who come into contact with the infected person will also become infected, if they are not vaccinated.

Sadly, measles is still one of the leading causes of death among young children worldwide, even though we have a safe and cost-effective vaccine to fight it. The CDC recommends the first dose (of two) of MMR vaccine be given one year of age for children, but can be administered as early as six months if the child will be traveling abroad.

We’ve been successful at significantly reducing the number of cases of measles we see here in the U.S., but we’re not out of the woods yet. Parents, please don’t let your child be without immunity from this highly contagious, dangerous (but preventable!) disease.

The Actual Risks of Vaccines (It Turns Out There Aren’t Many)

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post on July 8, 2014.


These days, we hear a lot about the risks of vaccines. As a pediatrician, I talk to many parents who are very frightened about those risks — and some choose not to vaccinate because of their fear.

Some of the risks we hear about are real, but some of them aren’t.

I absolutely support the right of every parent to make what they feel is the best decision for their child. The vaccination decision, however, isn’t a purely personal one. When people don’t immunize, it can lead to more cases of vaccine-preventable diseases — many of which can be deadly, especially for the young, the old and those with health problems.

And when people make the decision not to vaccinate based on misinformation, well, that makes it so much worse.

No medical treatment is 100 percent safe for all people. Heck, nothing in this world is 100 percent safe for all people. Crossing the street, eating a piece of hard candy, riding in a car and swimming have all been known to turn out badly — and yet those aren’t controversial.

I know, getting vaccines is different than riding in a car. There are lots of reasons, but one is that vaccines feel, well, more optional than riding in a car. Also, the risks of riding in cars are clear and well-known, and we know what we can do to prevent them (like using a car seat, and driving carefully). But the risks of vaccines seem a whole lot murkier.

That’s why the recent report about the actual risks of vaccines is so helpful. Researchers looked at hundreds of studies about vaccines and used statistics to figure out the most common “adverse effects.” These are the risks we need to really think about, as opposed to the mild fever and muscle soreness that goes away quickly, or the one-in-a-million risks that nobody can predict.

While it’s certainly good to know what the one-in-a-million risks are, if you are going to truly worry about those you should pack your child in a bubble right now — because the risks of playdates, playgrounds, going to school and taking most medications (as well as eating most foods) are higher. In saying that, I don’t mean to sound disrespectful of parents who worry about the rare risks of vaccines. It’s just that as a doctor, it’s frustrating to me when people only look at vaccines that way, vaccines that could keep their child and others from getting sick, and don’t pick apart the risks of everything else in their child’s life. And the illnesses vaccines prevent have risks that are much higher than one in a million, an important point that often gets lost.

Here are the risks that researchers found:

  • MMR vaccine: febrile seizures (while scary, these don’t cause long-term effects), and severe reactions in those who are allergic to the vaccine.
  • Hepatitis B vaccine: allergic reactions in people who are “yeast-sensitive” (people should check with their doctors to see if it applies to them)
  • Hepatitis A vaccine: can cause a bruising-type rash (purpura) although usually mild and short-lived.
  • Polio vaccine: the researchers found one study that showed an increase risk of food allergy in newborns who got the shot (they didn’t find it in older babies or children who got it), but only if they had eczema and a family history of food allergies.
  • Influenza vaccine: vomiting and diarrhea (for a brief period of time), febrile seizures
  • Pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13): can cause febrile seizures, especially if given with the flu shot.
  • Rotavirus: can cause intussception, a condition in which the intestine folds in on itself (while this can be dangerous, it can be fixed).
  • Meningococcal vaccine (Menactra): severe allergic reactions in people who are allergic to it.
  • Varicella (chicken pox) vaccine: can cause illness in children who have problems with their immune system (so they shouldn’t get it). It can also cause a much milder case of chicken pox in healthy children, and can cause purpura (that bruising rash again), usually mild and short-lived.

All of these are still rare — for example, intussception happens in between 1 and 5 out of every 100,000 children vaccinated. The risk of being allergic is very small too, which is good since it’s almost impossible to know about that risk ahead of time.

That’s it. They couldn’t find anything for the DTaP vaccine or the HIB vaccine. They couldn’t find any association with autism. And they couldn’t find any risk from giving a lot of vaccines at once; in fact, one study found that getting several vaccines may help protect children against leukemia.

Check out the report. Check out the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which is where information about events that happen after vaccines is kept. Ask your doctor every single question you have. We in the medical profession aren’t trying to keep anything secret, truly — and we rather desperately don’t want children or anyone to be hurt, either by the vaccines or by vaccine-preventable diseases.

Please, make your decisions based on the best information possible. There’s just too much riding on it.

Claire McCarthy, MD, is a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital. An Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a senior editor for Harvard Health Publications, she has been writing about health and parenting for magazines, newspapers, and the internet for more than 20 years. She and her husband are raising five children ranging in age from 23 to 8. She blogs for Thriving, the health and parenting blog of Children’s Hospital Boston, and for as MD Mama; you can follow her on Twitter at @drClaire.

Vaccination Milestones

cupcakeIf you have children, you’ve probably heard the word “milestone” more than you ever did before you had them. Milestones mark each week and trimester of pregnancy. Milestones mark your child’s growth and development. Walking, talking, eating independently – all milestones in their wonderful little lives. My daughter reached a major milestone on Saturday. She turned one! It was a great weekend of celebrating (both her birthday, AND my husband and I surviving the first year) and it still surprises me how quickly time can fly when you’re having fun.

Yesterday we loaded up in the car for one more milestone – Stella’s “one year well-visit” and 12 month immunizations at her pediatrician’s office. We found a seat in the waiting room, and she was wonderfully oblivious to the shots that were coming. She loved watching the fish swim around in the aquarium, and giggled at the other kids around us. As the nurse brought us into our room, she bounced on her daddy’s lap and played with the paper on the table like a happy girl…until the nurse came in with the needles. Our happy girl turned into one big crocodile tear. Her immunizations included Hepatitis A, MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), and Varicella (Chicken Pox), and before we knew it, they were over. Those nurses are amazingly quick! Although shots are never fun for kids, and Stella is probably a little sore today, I celebrated this milestone. We’d made it to our 12 month immunizations without contracting measles, mumps or chicken pox in the process! The nurse mentioned that she might have a slight fever today. A little fever is far better than the alternative, and she is finally protected. With outbreaks of several vaccine-preventable diseases on the rise – like measles and whooping cough - I was counting down the days until she could get vaccinated. Now I am able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Many of the diseases we vaccinate against are still common in other parts of the world. Measles, for example, is still a leading cause of death in children under 5 worldwide. In fact, 14 people die every hour from measles around the world. This is despite the fact that we have a vaccine that’s not only effective at preventing measles but also very, very safe.

A recent article published yesterday in the journal Pediatrics reviewed the available research on the safety of the MMR and other vaccines and found that side effects (if any) are mild, and severe adverse events are exceedingly rare. What is “rare”? Well, according to the CDC, the odds of having a severe reaction to the MMR is 1 in 1 million. To put that into perspective, Stella has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than having a severe side effect. And with measles cropping up all over the country, the chance of her getting exposed to measles is greater than it has been in roughly 20 years. Knowing that, I have no doubt the benefits of getting her vaccinated far outweigh the risks.

As a parent, we track our child’s development week to week. Additionally, it is our responsibility to keep up with their immunization schedule, and vaccinate them on time. Vaccinating is one of the best birthday gifts I could give to my child. It gives her the opportunity to stay healthy and be protected from diseases that can easily be prevented.