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A Parent's Guide to Kids' Vaccines

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Vaccines have contributed to a significant reduction in many childhood diseases, such as diphtheria, measles, and whooping cough. Other diseases, such as polio and smallpox, have been eliminated in the United States due to effective vaccines.

It is now rare for children in the United States to experience the devastating and often deadly effects of these illnesses that were once common. Infant deaths due to vaccine preventable childhood diseases have nearly disappeared in the United States and other countries with high vaccination coverage.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, to children and teens. Learn more.

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Because immunization programs of the 20th century were so successful, many of today’s parents have never seen many of the diseases and do not understand the potential for them to re-emerge. If too many individuals choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children, the diseases that are now rare or non-existent in this country may resurface.

The viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable diseases can be passed on to people who are not protected by vaccines, and cause severe disease and death. For example, from 1989-1991 a measles outbreak occurred in the United States resulting in more than 55,000 cases of measles and 123 measles-associated deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the "most important cause of the measles resurgence of 1989-1991 was low vaccination coverage."

Ensuring the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is one of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) top priorities. The Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) is the center within FDA that regulates vaccines in the United States. Vaccines are developed in accordance with the highest safety standards. These high standards of safety are necessary as vaccines are administered to millions of individuals in the United States each year, including infants and children.

Benefits and Risks

Like any medicine, vaccines have benefits and risks, and no vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing disease or 100 percent safe in all individuals. Most adverse effects of vaccines are usually minor and short-lived. For example, an individual may feel soreness at the injection site or experience a fever. Serious vaccine reactions are extremely rare, but they can happen.

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