Questions about childhood immunizations? CVMG has answers

Carla Morales, NP-C, Cucamonga Valley Medical Group

By Carla Morales, NP-C

The past two years have really brought to light just how important immunizations are for all of us. With another school year approaching, this is an ideal time to address several common questions about childhood immunizations.

What are immunizations?

Immunizations — or vaccines — are injections or liquids that teach a child’s immune system to recognize and defend against bacteria or viruses that can cause serious diseases. Immunizations stimulate the immune system to react as if there is a real infection.

The immune system fights against this “infection” and remembers the bacteria or virus to protect the body against future infections.

Why are they important?

Immunizations are important because they strengthen a child’s immune system and protect the child against serious diseases.

Immunizations also prevent the spread of contagious and dangerous diseases. Routine childhood immunization is a critical part of preventative health care and has been a significant achievement in public health over the past century.

A 2013 New England Journal of Medicine study estimated that childhood vaccination programs have prevented 103.1 million cases of diphtheria, hepatitis A, measles, mumps, pertussis, polio and rubella since 1924.

When should my child receive immunizations?

Children should start receiving immunizations at a very young age when they are most vulnerable to serious diseases.

The vaccine schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is designed to protect the child by providing immunity early in life, before he or she is exposed to dangerous diseases, and when the vaccines will produce the strongest response from the child’s immune system.

Although newborns and breastfed babies may be immune to some infections because they have received antibodies from their mothers, that immunity does not last long and does not protect against all diseases. Long-term protection can be achieved with immunizations.

A child typically receives his or her first immunization (against hepatitis B) shortly after birth. The child then receives vaccines at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age to protect against hepatitis B, rotavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type B, pneumococcal bacteria and polio virus.

Between 12 and 18 months of age, a child receives additional doses of the previously mentioned vaccines as well as vaccines to provide immunity against measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and hepatitis A.

Between 4 and 6 years old, a child should receive further immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio virus, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. When the child is 11 to 12 years old, he or she receives vaccines to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, human papillomavirus and meningococcal bacteria.

Finally, a second dose of the meningococcal vaccine is given at 16 years old. In addition to these scheduled immunizations, it is recommended that children 6 months and older receive vaccines to protect against influenza and COVID-19.

Which immunizations are required for school?

Mandatory immunizations for school entry differ by state. The state of California currently requires the following vaccines for children starting preschool, transitional kindergarten or kindergarten: Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (5 doses); polio (4 doses); hepatitis B (3 doses); measles, mumps and rubella (2 doses); and varicella (2 doses). Children starting 7th grade need 1 dose of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis and 2 doses of varicella immunizations.

Are there any risks?

Vaccines are safe for children. They must undergo extensive safety testing and evaluation before being approved for administration in the United States.

Some vaccines may cause mild reactions, such as soreness or redness at the injection site or fever. Serious reactions are rare.

Because vaccines contain weakened or dead bacteria or viruses, they do not cause illness. Although some parents worry about a risk for autism, many scientific studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.

What is the bottom line?

Childhood immunizations provide vital protection against potentially life-threatening diseases. It is important for children to receive vaccines as scheduled for their health and the health of the community.

The risks associated with vaccination are minor in comparison to the health risks of the diseases they help prevent.

CVMG encourages parents to schedule their children for regular well-child visits and administration of immunizations.

Additional information about childhood immunizations can be found on the following websites: CDC, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Parents should also refer to their children’s pediatrician or primary care physician/provider with any questions or concerns.