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Why are childhood vaccines important?

Childhood vaccinations lay the groundwork for good health, but some parents delay or even ignore immunization schedules. Myths about vaccines are commonplace.

Vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, and what’s more, they protect both the children receiving them as well as the general population.

“The reason those vaccines are given at an early age is because there is a real risk of catching the diseases,” says Lewis Jackson, M.D., a Piedmont pediatrician.

Reduce your child’s risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children start receiving vaccines as infants. It’s important to get each immunization on the schedule.

Dr. Jackson says that babies are particularly at risk for:

  • Pneumonia (prevented by pneumococcal vaccine)
  • Whooping cough (prevented by pertussis vaccine)
  • Meningitis (prevented by Haemophilus influenzae vaccine)

Most vaccines require subsequent doses as children grow older, Dr. Jackson says. Boosters help maintain the vaccinations’ long-term effectiveness.

Herd immunity

When children are vaccinated, they help prevent the spread of serious illnesses and protect vulnerable groups (like older adults and people with compromised immune systems). Some vaccines can become less effective over time, so it’s important for as many people to be immunized as possible.

As vaccination rates rise, the entire population benefits, Dr. Jackson says. This is known as “herd immunity.”

Parents who don’t vaccinate their children essentially rely on that herd immunity, he adds. But when people ignore vaccination schedules, they are putting everyone at risk. During his career as a physician, Dr. Jackson has seen children with devastating illnesses that vaccines can and do prevent.

Dispelling vaccine myths

For a long time, Dr. Jackson says, parents reluctant to vaccinate their children cited fears of autism links. 

“It’s been proven very clearly that autism and vaccines are not related,” he says.

Now he hears fewer autism concerns, but other unfounded worries are sprouting in their place. Some parents, Dr. Jackson says, think it’s dangerous for children to get multiple vaccinations at once.

“There is absolutely no factual basis for the concern,” he says.

Physicians can combat these fears by addressing families’ questions openly and honestly, he adds. He also encourages doctors to stay current on their and their children’s own vaccinations.

Why adults need vaccines too

Even after receiving childhood vaccinations, adults need a tetanus booster every 10 years to maintain effectiveness. The CDC also recommends that boys and girls get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination when they are 11 or 12, though it’s approved for adults as well.

The flu shot is a special case. Since different kinds of influenza viruses spread each flu season, people need a new vaccination annually.

Dr. Jackson has heard plenty of myths about adult vaccinations, too. But like their childhood counterparts, these vaccines are proven to be safe and prevent the spread of illness.

“If vaccine rates decline,” he says, “the illnesses return.”

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