In this post, which I am trying to keep as short as possible, I am providing a link to WebMD's vaccine information site.
August is the month we are all prepping our children to return to school (werent we just talking about summer camp?) and many children will be getting immunizations necessary for school entry, along with their "back-to-school" check ups, or pre-sports physicals. The number of vaccines available and recommended has increased markedly since my children were little, and many parents, even those who have accepted vaccination in general, wonder what benefit accrues from some of the newer vaccines. While it is not possible for me to cover all the risks and benefits of every possible immunization, I encourage those of you who are wondering to follow the link I provided above, which enables you to obtain the recommended vaccines for every age group, a description of the disease it prevents, and a compendium of potential risks.
If you prefer to access the information in pdf format, please click on one of these links: vaccine information , vaccine side effects or vaccine ingredients Remember, there is nothing that does not have at least some risk. Most vaccines can cause soreness at the site, fever and a day or two of irritability. Rarely, there is the potential for more significant side effects. Those are described in the provided links.
One of the most recent questions I was asked by a reader was "why should I immunize my child against chickenpox, when so few children ever died from this disease?"
Its true, even before the varicella vaccine was available, only about 100 child deaths occured related to this infection each year. However, there were about 10,000 hospital admissions for complications of the disease, such as pneumonia and encephalitis (infection of the brain), which sometimes required advanced techniques of life support in critical care units. Patients who were immunocompromised (such as patients with childhood cancers undergoing chemotherapy) were at much higher risk of complications, and chicken pox infection can spread rapidly in an immunocompromised population. I have personally witnessed the devastating effects of chickenpox in children with leukemia, and glad that I have not had to see this in recent years. So why not just give the vaccine to kids who are at risk? Well, you don't usually plan for your your child to get leukemia, and once they have it their immune systems may not respond well to any vaccine, so the best protection for them is to not be exposed to it, which requires something we call "herd immunity." This is a situation in which a large enough percentage of the population is immune to a particular disease that makes it hard for that disease to circulate in the population.
The other issue with chickenpox is that once the virus is in your system, even though you have recovered, it never goes away, but rather waits for an opportune time to cause another disease known as Shingles, or Varicella Zoster, which is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The elderly are particularly prone to shingles, which is very painful, and may lead to significant complications, including death. So, by having your child immunized against chickenpox, you are helping to protect them from shingles in their old age.
Other immunizations that were not available to my children are the HPV vaccine, rotavirus, meningococcal vaccine, and a few others. I urge my readers to follow the provided links and read about the vaccines that most interest you.
Feel free to post your questions about specific vaccines or their side effects in the comment section, and I will do my best to answer them.
I will try to be unbiased in my answers, but in the name of full disclosure I must admit that I am in general pro-vaccine, and that I personally worked on a vaccine that was the predecessor to the currently administered Hib vaccine which prevents a certain type of meningitis. The other reason for my bias is that working in pediatric critical care for so many years I have seen a large number of children admitted, and some of them die or become permanently disabled due to infections caused by preventable diseases.