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Health Raps: Immunizations


Many serious childhood diseases are preventable by using vaccines routinely recommended for children. Since the introduction of these vaccines, rates of diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and meningitis caused by haemophilus influenzae type b have declined by 95 to 100%. Prior to immunization, hundreds of thousands of children were infected and thousands died in the U.S. each year from these diseases.

Immunizations prevent the spread of disease

Diseases are spread through communities by infecting unimmunized people as well as the small percentage of people for whom immunizations do not work. Individuals who are unimmunized increase the risk that they, and others in their community, will get the diseases vaccines can prevent. For some highly contagious diseases, such as measles, even a small number of unimmunized or underimmunized people can lead to an outbreak of disease.

Immunizations are safe

Immunizations are extremely safe and getting safer and more effective all the time as a result of medical research and ongoing review by doctors, researchers, and public health officials. Immunizations are given to keep healthy people well, and are held to the highest safety standards. But that doesn't mean that vaccines are risk-free.

All vaccines may have possible side effects. Most of these effects are quite mild, such as pain or soreness where the shot is given. Serious side effects, such as an allergic reaction, occur very rarely (about one time in 500,000 doses). The reaction can be treated.

Immunizations are strong protection

Immunization is the single most important way parents can protect their children against serious diseases. There are no effective alternatives to immunization for protection against serious and sometimes deadly infectious diseases.

Despite the known benefits of breastfeeding, such as enhanced protection of the infant against some colds, ear infections and diarrhea, breastfeeding does not prevent vaccine-preventable diseases like polio and Hepatitis B. Unlike vaccines, breastfeeding does not stimulate the infant's own immune system to produce the antibodies needed to fight very specific diseases like measles and rubella.

Children who have not been immunized are at far greater risk of becoming infected with serious diseases. For example, a recent study showed that children who had not received the measles vaccine were 35 times more likely to get the disease.

And, did you know...Infants are more vulnerable to disease because their immune systems cannot easily fight off disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Moreover, the effects of disease are often more serious in infants than in older children.

Many of the diseases that vaccines prevent cannot be effectively treated or cured.

Even if a disease is not currently present in a community, the bacteria and viruses that cause it have not gone away. Disease outbreaks can and do occur in communities that are not protected by immunization.

With the increase in international travel and foreign adoption, serious vaccine-preventable diseases uncommon in the US, are literally only a plane ride away.

The number of recommended immunizations has increased because we are now able to safely protect children from more serious diseases than ever before.

"Health Raps: Immunizations" was produced in September of 2004. For the most recently updated health information, consult a physician and visit