Immunizations protect babies, toddlers, and children against many childhood diseases that were once devastating and even deadly. Prior to the development of vaccines, 3,000 children died of measles every year, whooping cough killed thousands more, and polio paralyzed between 13,000 and 20,000 children. Although these diseases are now rare in the United States, a drop in the level of immunizations could bring them back quickly, especially since international travel is now so common. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a recommended schedule for immunizations for your baby, toddler and child.
Immunizations are medications, and like other drugs, can have side effects. In most cases, vaccine side effects are mild, such as fever and redness or soreness at the injection site. Your doctor can tell you how to minimize these side effects -- for example, by using Tylenol to help prevent or bring down fever. (Be sure to get your doctor's guidance before doing this.) In some cases, more serious side effects can occur, such as allergic reactions. Very rarely, severe side effects occur. The CDC and FDA monitor vaccines closely to make sure they are as safe as possible. Many changes have been made in the last decade to improve vaccine safety, such as changing the polio vaccine schedule and switching to a new type of pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. But in the rare event a severe reaction does occur, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is available to provide compensation for injuries.
For more on vaccine safety, see the CDC's Vaccine Safety information page.