Parents everywhere should consider that situation a wake-up call to check the familiar yellow immunization card to see if their children's shots are up to date.Sue Hunt, a public health nurse and coordinator with the immunization branch of the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, explained that, while vaccinations are no guarantee, they are the best protection against some diseases.
For example, the MMR vaccine, given for measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), is 80 percent effective after one shot and 90 percent effective after the recommended two vaccinations.
"If you have 100 vaccinated students who had only one MMR shot, 80 would be protected, 20 would not," Hunt said.
To increase those odds to 90 in 100 at colleges and universities, where contagious diseases like mumps can thrive, students are now encouraged to get that second MMR shot if they haven't had it.
Hunt and Linda Lake, a public health nurse manager, provided answers to some common questions regarding childhood immunizations:
- What are the necessary vaccinations?
Many schools require certain immunizations for children to enter school. In California, they include DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, the last more commonly known as whooping cough), polio, MMR, hepatitis B and varicella (chickenpox).
There are typically different requirements at different grade levels, and child-care settings may require different shots than schools. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend flu and pneumonia vaccinations.
Immunizations recommended by the CDC, but not required to enter school, include hepatitis A and B, rotavirus, flu and pneumonia.
All of these vaccines, except the annual flu shot, are given in a series of doses that start, ideally, during a child's first year of life.
Also recommended for children at age 11, and especially for college students living in dorms, is the meningococcal vaccine to protect against meningitis.
- What if my child is behind on his or her shots?
Children can get caught up at any age. Depending on the number needed, the shots can be given all at one time or scheduled over several visits.
It's always better to get children their shots as babies. Shots can be painful, something babies don't remember and something some older children become anxious about.
- I have friends who say some of these vaccines aren't safe.
Each person can react differently to immunization. Occasionally, people don't respond to a vaccine and still get the illness the vaccine was meant to protect them against. In most cases, vaccines are effective and cause no side effects, or only mild reactions, such as fever or soreness at the injection site. Very rarely, people experience more serious side effects, like allergic reactions. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you have health problems or known allergies to medications or food.
According to the CDC, the weight of available scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism. It recognizes there is considerable public interest in this issue and, therefore, supports additional research.
In the case of polio vaccine, however, the CDC no longer recommends oral polio vaccine. While it and the polio shot both give immunity to polio, for a few people (about 1 in 2.4 million), the oral vaccine actually causes polio. The polio shot does not. If you or your child will be getting the oral polio vaccine, the CDC recommends asking for a copy of the oral vaccine supplemental vaccine information statement.
And in the rare event you or your child has a serious reaction to a vaccine, there is a federal program that can help pay for the care of those harmed. For details about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, visit www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation or call 800-338-2382.
- What's the risk in not getting kids their shots?
So many people don't remember all the diseases that vaccines prevent.
Not getting the shots puts your child at risk. In 1974, Japan had a successful pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination program, with nearly 8 in 10 Japanese children vaccinated. That year, only 393 cases of pertussis were reported, with no deaths. But rumors began to spread that the vaccination was no longer needed and the vaccine was not safe, and by 1976 only one in 10 infants were getting vaccinated. Three years later, Japan had a major epidemic - more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough and 41 deaths.
- Every time my child gets her shots, she seems to get sick.
That depends on what you mean by sick. What you really need to look for is anything unusual, such as a high fever - 104.9 or higher within 48 hours of the shot and no ready explanation for it. When you take your child for shots, you will get what is called a vaccine information statement. You will be told about what shots the child is getting and what to look for.
- Are my children guaranteed not to get these diseases if they get the immunizations?
No. Vaccines have what are known as efficacy rates. Varicella, for example, is 85 percent effective in preventing chickenpox, but 15 percent of those vaccinated may get chickenpox anyway.
- If children are sick, should they not get their shots?
If your child has a mild illness or low-grade fever, it is absolutely safe to get the shots, and the child will experience the same effect as if perfectly healthy. People with moderate or severe illness should wait.
- What if I can't afford to get the shots?
The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program gives vaccines to doctors who serve eligible children, through age 18, for little or no out-of-pocket costs.
- How do I get the necessary shots for my child?
People need to make arrangements with their medical provider. If they need additional information or want to participate in the Vaccines for Children program, they can call the CDC, 800-232-4636, or visit www.cdc.gov/nip.