Immunizations help keep you and your child from getting a disease. They contain medicine that causes the body to make antibodies. These antibodies can then recognize and fight the disease if you or your child is later exposed to it.
When your young child whimpers at the mention of the word "shot," you probably have mixed feelings. You want your son to be protected by his vaccinations; you just wish that the procedure was pain-free.
"Vaccines protect the health and well-being of children, but children don't understand that," says Deborah Wexler, MD, executive director of the Immunization Action Coalition, a national organization based in St. Paul, Minn. "It can be really hard for them to come in for their shots."
Help prevent you or your child from getting dangerous diseases for which there are often no medical treatments.
Help keep disease from spreading.
Help protect people with weak immune systems, who may not be able to get vaccines. Their only protection is for others to get vaccinated so illnesses are less common.
Cost less than getting treated for the diseases.
Have very few serious side effects.
Often are needed before a child can attend school or day care.
Prevent days out of work or school due to illness or caring for a sick person.
Vaccines are the best way we have to prevent infectious diseases. A successful vaccine program depends on everyone getting vaccinated.
When should my child be immunized?
Ask your doctor what shots your child should get. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps a list of shots needed for each age group.
Why do I have to use the government schedule? Can't I use my own schedule?
The schedule recommended by experts is designed to work best with a child's immune system at certain ages and at certain times. The schedule is set up so that your child gets the best protection possible at the earliest age possible from the fewest shots possible.
Experts review the schedules every year based on the best research available and change the schedules as needed.
A different schedule may not provide protection for your child. If shots are spread out or skipped, a child may get the disease during the delay.
Why does my child need so many doses to protect against one disease?
Your child gets as many shots as needed to give him or her full protection from a disease. This may be one shot only, or it may be several doses.
More than one dose may be needed because immunity may have to build up over time. You want the best combination of immediate and future protection for your child. This means that your child needs a certain amount of vaccine spaced apart at different ages. This builds the best protection.