Children look forward to playing games, finger painting and making mud pies. The one thing no child looks forward to, however, is going to the doctor and getting a shot. Vaccinations in childhood are extremely important to prevent serious chronic and acute diseases. In the past few years significant controversy about vaccinations has arisen among parents and physicians. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, multiple medicine academies and the U.S. Services Preventive Task Force all highly recommend or require a strict pediatric vaccination schedule. August is National Immunization Awareness Month and a good time to review the vaccination recommendations for children.
Children younger than 1 year of age
Newborns and young children are most susceptible to acquiring diseases and, therefore, vaccination at an early age is extremely important.
The hepatitis B vaccine is given in a three-part series: once at birth, at 2 months of age and then again at 6 months of age.
Rotavirus is a severe gastrointestinal disease that can be acquired in early childhood and can lead to severe dehydration, so it is important to acquire immunity through vaccines. The rotavirus vaccine should be administered in a two- or three-part series, depending on the specific type of vaccine administered. The first rotavirus vaccine should be administered at 2 months of age, then at 4 months of age and, if given the three-part series, at 6 months of age.
Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis
DTaP protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough), and should be administered to children in a five-dose series at 2, 4, 6, 15 to 18 months of age, and 4 to 6 years of age.
The haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine protects against meningitis and, since this vaccine has been released, the incidence of childhood meningitis has gone down significantly. This virus also causes severe pneumonia and blood-borne infections in young children. The vaccine series is administered at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
The pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13) vaccine protects against pneumonia and is usually given to children at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. (This vaccine is also given to the elderly population to prevent pneumonia.)
The inactivated polio virus is given to prevent polio in children. Because of this vaccine, polio has been eradicated in the United States, but cases are still reported in developing countries such as India and countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The polio vaccine should be given at 2, 4, and 6 to 18 months of age.
The influenza vaccine should be given annually to all children who are 6 months of age or older. Infants and the elderly are very susceptible to the influenza virus.
Children older than 1 year of age
Note that a few of the vaccinations above that are administered to children younger than 1 year of age should be repeated at 12 to 15 months of age, including: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), Hib (haemophilus), PCV (pneumococcal), IPV (polio) and Hep B (hepatitis).
At 4 to 6 years of age children should receive their fourth dose of the polio vaccine unless they received their third dose at 4 years of age or older. They also should receive their fifth dose of DTaP unless they received their fourth dose at 4 years of age or older.
MMR, varicella and hepatitis A
Three new vaccinations should be introduced to children at 1 year of age: the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine and the hepatitis A vaccine. The second dose of the MMR and varicella should be administered at 4 to 6 years of age. The hepatitis A vaccine prevents fecal-oral hepatitis, which causes severe gastroenteritis. This vaccine is recommended at 1 year of age and should be repeated no earlier than six months later.
Keep in mind the importance of vaccinations and the numerous diseases that have been eradicated in the United States because of them. Active immunization awareness is just one step in the right direction toward helping your child live a happier, healthier life while playing in the sandbox.