(StatePoint) It may seem like diseases like polio, measles and whooping cough are a thing of the past. But the 2014-15 measles outbreak is a stark reminder that these viruses still circulate and children who are not immunized are at risk.
During National Infant Immunization Week, April 18-25, pediatricians are highlighting the importance of protecting our most vulnerable children from infectious diseases.
“One of the most important decisions you can make as a parent is to immunize your child against disease,” says Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It’s best to immunize your child on time, according to the recommended vaccine schedule. These diseases are unpredictable, and we never know where they will pop up next in our communities. ”
Protection Begins Early
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all recommend children be immunized against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases by the time they are two years old. Mothers can even begin protecting their infants before they’re even born.
“Protecting your newborn should start during pregnancy. Infants don’t receive their first dose of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine until they are two months old, and they can’t receive a flu vaccine until six months. When pregnant women are immunized with these vaccines, that protection extends to their newborns,” says Hassink. Expectant parents can also encourage their families to be vaccinated against flu and pertussis (also known as whooping cough), to provide a cocoon of protection around the newborn.
Follow the Schedule
Your pediatrician will outline the recommended schedule of vaccines. The first vaccine is Hepatitis B, which infants usually receive a day or two after birth. Your child’s first year will also include immunizations against pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, rotavirus, pneumococcal, polio and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib).
The immunization schedule has been carefully designed so children receive each vaccine when it will produce the best response from their immune systems, and when the child is most vulnerable to a particular disease. Delaying vaccines means delaying protection from these diseases. Talk with your pediatrician if you have questions about your child’s vaccines.
While vaccinations can cause discomfort, most babies calm down quickly after being held by parents and hearing their reassuring voices. Breastfeeding during or immediately following the vaccination can provide significant relief. Some pediatricians might offer remedies, such as a cooling spray or topical anesthetic cream.
Combination vaccines include up to five vaccines in a single vial, so fewer needles are needed. Remember, any discomfort your baby feels is experienced as a single event, even if he or she receives multiple vaccines in a visit. Spreading vaccines over multiple visits will only increase the number of times your baby feels pain, and leave your baby unprotected longer.
“Infants are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases. Following the recommended immunization schedule ensures your baby will be protected as soon as possible,” Dr. Hassink said.
Learn more about infant and childhood immunizations at www.healthychildren.org.
Just as you never leave home without buckling your baby into a car seat, you should always protect your child from infectious diseases.