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A Parent's Guide to Kids' Vaccines

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.

Health Insurance Center

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.

Examples of serious reactions include:

• anaphylaxis or severe allergic reaction in persons who are allergic to any vaccine components (ingredients)

• development of temporary arthritis following rubella vaccine

• development of a disease similar to the disease that the vaccine is intended to prevent if a “live-attenuated vaccine” (see below) is given to a person with a weakened immune system

For a more comprehensive list of risks, you should review the package insert or patient information for each vaccine. It is important to discuss with your health care provider any prior reactions to vaccines and any adverse reactions following vaccination.

"However, parents should know that the risk of being harmed by a vaccine is significantly smaller than the risk of serious illness that comes with infectious diseases," says Norman Baylor, Ph.D., director of the Office of Vaccine Research and Review in CBER. "Vaccination is a very important step to get children off to a healthy start."

Types of Vaccines

WebMD Public Information from the FDA