Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) list vaccination as the greatest, and most cost-effective, public health achievement of the 20th century. The WHO estimates that immunization and child vaccinations currently avert an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year, but if global vaccination rates improve, an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided. However, the rate of global child vaccinations coverage, which is the proportion of the world’s children who receive recommended vaccines, has remained constant for the past few years.
In 2015, about 116 million children worldwide under the age of 1 received their recommended doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. This and other vaccines protect these children against serious illnesses or disabilities, with some diseases even being fatal. Vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children, and teens from serious, and potentially harmful diseases. Vaccines basically work by helping the body’s natural defenses to help it safely develop immunity to disease, and reducing the risk of infection. Vaccines help the body develop that immunity by imitating the bacteria or virus, without causing actual illness. The vaccine causes the immune system to develop the same response as it does to a real infection so the body can recognize and fight the germs in the future.
Child vaccinations: What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine is made from or contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism. This agent is made from weakened or killed form of the microbe, its toxins, or one of its surface proteins. The active agent stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and then “remember” it, so that the immune system can easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that may enter the body later.
The CDC and other physicians work to update the vaccine recommendations and schedules every year based on the latest research and science. Immunizations have had a very large impact on improving the health of everyone in the United States. Vaccine-preventable diseases can be very serious, or even deadly, especially in infants and young children.
Child vaccinations: What is the purpose of a vaccine?
Every year, thousands of Americans get sick from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines. Some of these people are hospitalized, or may even die. However, vaccines have greatly reduced the occurrence of diseases that once infected or killed many infants, children, and adults regularly, and with severe consequences. And, since the germs that cause this vaccine-preventable disease still exist, and can be spread to people who are not protected by vaccines, getting immunized is the best protection against these diseases. The recommended vaccines and the vaccine schedules for children, teens, and adults are based on factors such as age, previous health conditions, lifestyle, jobs, and travel.
Recently, there have been measles outbreaks in several states. The number of measles cases in 2008 nearly tripled to a total of 140 cases. Most of these cases were linked to a just few unvaccinated children who had traveled out of the United States. The number of measles outbreaks continues to rise, and this brings up another point: unvaccinated children can put others, even vaccinated children at risk for getting a vaccine-preventable disease. This can be because they were too young to receive the vaccination, could not be vaccinated, or because the vaccine they received did not work. Vaccination is important because it protects not only the person or child who gets the vaccine, but it also helps to keep diseases, like measles, from spreading to other children and adults.
Child vaccination schedule
According to the CDC, these are the vaccines that are routinely given to children up to 18 years old, which are all on the latest immunization schedule to protect them against 15 vaccine-preventable illnesses. Unlike diseases such as smallpox, none of these illnesses has been eradicated, even with the available vaccines against these viruses and bacteria:
- Hepatitis B1 (HepB) – Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver.
Rotavirus – Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in young children in the world.
- Diphtheria, tetanus, & acellular pertussis (DTaP) – Diphtheria produces a toxin when in the respiratory system, and produces a toxin that destroys the healthy tissues and may spread to the bloodstream and affect the heart, kidney, and nerves. Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that also produces a toxin in the body that causes painful muscle contractions and lockjaw. Pertussis, or whooping cough, causes uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe.
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) – Haemophilus influenzae causes meningitis and pneumonia.
- Pneumococcal conjugate – This vaccine protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes pneumonia and meningitis, and other types of pneumococcal infections. This includes bronchitis, rhinitis, acute sinusitis, conjunctivitis, sepsis, septic arthritis, endocarditis, pericarditis, and brain abscess.
- Inactivated poliovirus – Polio is highly contagious and can cause irreversible paralysis.
- Influenza – The flu is caused by a rapidly evolving virus, and so the vaccine must evolve right along with it.
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) – Measles usually results in a high fever and rash and can lead to blindness, encephalitis or death. Mumps causes painful swelling at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), fever, headache, and muscle aches, and can lead to viral meningitis. Rubella can lead to defects of the brain, heart, eyes and ears.
- Varicella (VAR) – Varicella, otherwise known as chickenpox, can cause complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, or bacterial infections of the skin. It is more severe in adults.
- Hepatitis A (HepA) – Hepatitis A is an infectious disease of the liver caused by a virus and causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, fever, and abdominal pain.
- Meningococcal A – Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can cause permanent severe brain damage and is often deadly.
- Tetanus, diphtheria, & acellular pertussis (Tdap) – This vaccine is similar to the DTaP vaccine, but has different concentrations of the dosage.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) – the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract, and can cause cervical cancer, other types of cancer, and genital warts in both men and women.
- Meningococcal B – This vaccine protects against serotype B meningococcal disease, a different form of meningitis.
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23) – This vaccine is recommended for children and adults in high-risk groups, such as those with heart conditions, lung conditions, HIV, or some cancers.
Although not a part of the routine child vaccination schedule, vaccines are available to protect against a number of other vaccine-preventable diseases, including cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, and tuberculosis.
There has been so much progress made in vaccine research and development during recent years, and also in several countries. Just last year in 2016, WHO declared that the world is closer than ever to eradicating polio, and the virus is restricted to just a few areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) is working to provide more equitable access to vaccines and aiming to achieve adult and child vaccinations coverage of at least 90% nationally and at least 80% in every district by 2020. It also works to stimulate research and development for the next generation of vaccines. Currently, more than 80 vaccines are in the late stages of clinical testing, including vaccines for malaria and dengue fever.
With new research and information emerging constantly, educating yourself and avoiding vaccine misinformation can help make sure that you and your children are fully vaccinated and safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.
If you have any questions, leave me a comment below and I’ll answer as quickly as possible 🙂
CDC. Recommended Immunization Schedule for Children and Adolescents Aged 18 Years or Younger, UNITED STATES, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html.
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule. Pediatrics. 2011;127;387-388.
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Increasing Immunization Coverage, 2011. Pediatrics. 2010;125(6);1295-1304.
WHO. Immunization Coverage. 2017. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs378/en/
Elsie is a public health professional working in education and research. She is a lifelong learner, and is especially interested in mental and behavioral health. She loves travelling and spending time with her dog.