Immunizations keep deadly
diseases in the history books
Every parent knows at least part of the immunization drill: taking a
reluctant child to the doctor's office for one or more mildly painful injections,
perhaps bribing said child with a treat afterward if she behaves herself.
Childhood immunizations are now routine-indeed, they are required by law
for school and day care-yet most parents don't think much about what immunizations
When a person is exposed to disease, the body's immune system responds
by creating antibodies to fight the disease. These antibodies help the body
protect itself against the disease long after first exposure. Immunizations
work by prompting an immune response in the body without the risk of exposure
to the disease, thus preventing illness.
Thanks to effective vaccines, the days of deadly epidemics for several
childhood diseases are long past. Many parents today have never seen anyone
in leg braces after a crippling bout with polio, and most couldn't identify
the disease pertussis even if you told them to listen for the characteristic
"whooping cough." Such ignorance is bliss because it shows off
the success of vaccination campaigns.
Unfortunately, this happy innocence has its down side as well-without
any personal experience with such killers as tetanus and diphtheria, parents
may not take seriously the need to immunize their children against the diseases.
Even doctors may not be very strict about keeping patients' shots up to
date. Usually, though, parents and doctors want to make sure children are
fully protected against major childhood diseases, so the main issue is simply
getting the child to the office for shots.
Current immunization recommendations call for a series of shots against
10 different diseases to be given during a child's first two years. The
recommendations are reviewed each year and agreed upon by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices,
the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The cornerstone of the complex schedule is the "4-3-1" series:
- four doses of DTP (diphtheria, tetanus or "lockjaw," and
pertussis or "whooping cough"), given at two, four and six months,
and around 15 months;
- three doses of polio, given at two and four months, and around 12 months;
- one dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella-"German measles"),
given at 12-15 months.
Newer vaccines are also available against hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae
type B or "Hib" (which can cause meningitis), and varicella or
"chicken pox." The hepatitis B vaccine is often given immediately
after birth and followed with two more doses at around one and six months.
Hib follows the same schedule as polio, and varicella should be given at
around 12 months.
This is a simplified version of the approved schedule. Children with
specific health problems may receive their immunizations at different times.
Your physician can help you determine what is most appropriate for your
Parents interested in learning more about childhood immunizations can
contact the CDC's National Immunization Program hotlines at 800-CDC-SHOT
for general immunization information or 800-232-2522 for immunization clinic
locations and other information. Or visit the program's web site at <http://www.cdc.gov/nip>.
Johanna Hinman is an MPH candidate at the Rollins School of Public
Health and a research assistant on the Georgia Immunization Study. "Wellness"
is coordinated by the Seretean Center for Health Promotion at the Rollins
School of Public Health.
to March 2, 1998 Contents Page