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Vaccines Help Protect Children's Health All Year Long - and Throughout Their Lives

On November 6, the California Department of Public Health (CDHP) announced the first report of an influenza-associated death in a person under the age of one year for the current flu season. In reporting the infant’s death in Stanislaus County, the CDHP noted, in part, “Young children less than a year of age are at increased risk of severe influenza. It is especially troubling when a baby too young to be vaccinated (under age 6 months) passes away. Preventing the spread of this often deadly disease is why getting vaccinated is so important.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for anyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. Because children younger than 6 months are too young to be vaccinated, the people who care for them should be vaccinated instead. The flu shot given during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from flu.

“Parents need to protect their children from serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses, including the flu,” says Dr. Bhaskari Peela, a pediatrician with Washington Township Medical Foundation. “One way you can do that is to make sure your children’s vaccinations are current. Making sure children and teens are up-to-date on vaccinations for diseases also will protect the health of infants who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated.”

Because young children’s immune systems are not as well developed as an adult’s, they are particularly vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections. Flu vaccines are recommended every year because the type of flu virus in circulation changes every year. Other vaccines provide long-term, perhaps even lifetime protection against a variety of illnesses.

“Most vaccines are given during the first two years of life,” says Dr. Peela. “Many of these vaccines are given at ages 2 months, 4 months and 6 months to build up children’s immunity. Other immunizations are recommended at 15 months, 4 years and at age 10 to 11 before middle school. Certain ‘booster’ shots are recommended throughout life. For example, the Tdap booster shot that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis – also called whooping cough – is important for pregnant moms and any other people who are in contact with infants who are not vaccinated.”

Thanks to vaccines, a number of diseases are becoming very rare in the United States. In December 2014, however, a large outbreak of measles started in California when at least 40 people who visited or worked at Disneyland in Orange County contracted measles. The outbreak also spread to at least half a dozen other states.

“Since that outbreak of measles last year, I have seen parents become more willing to vaccinate their children, which is a positive change,” Dr. Peela observes.

“Some people questioned the safety of vaccines, and some parents voiced concern that a baby’s immune system cannot handle multiple vaccines at once, but studies have shown there is no evidence for either of those claims,” she explains. “I am really impressed by the fact that parents are becoming better informed about the importance of vaccination. We will work with parents to address any concerns they have about vaccine safety and scheduling, but we do follow the guidelines from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to make sure kids get their vaccines at the right time.”

The AAP recommends vaccines for:

  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
  • Polio
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP), with a booster vaccine called Tdap at ages 10 to 12
  • Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Chickenpox (varicella)
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Rotavirus infections
  • Influenza, for all children age 6 months and older

The AAP added the rotavirus to its recommendations in 2006, noting that rotavirus is a major cause of stomach and intestinal infections in the U.S., infecting four out of five children in the first three to five years of life.

The AAP also recommends vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) for both girls and boys, generally at 11 to 12 years of age. HPV infection can lead to possible cervical cancer, and the vaccine protects against several strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

“This year, the HPV vaccine now contains more strains of the virus, for additional protection,” notes Dr. Peela. “In addition to helping prevent cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine also can help both boys and girls prevent getting throat cancer later in life. If you have concerns about the HPV vaccine, or the age your child should receive the vaccine, you should consult your doctor.”

In California, various vaccinations are required for children attending public school. Many private schools also require proof of vaccination. Some children currently are allowed by California law to skip immunizations if a parent submits a “personal beliefs exemption” or a medical exemption at enrollment. Parents who want to opt out of the vaccines required to attend public schools also must submit a signed statement that they have received information from a health care professional regarding the benefits and risks of vaccinations.

Dr. Peela emphasizes that the protection provided by childhood vaccines far outweighs the very small risks of any serious reactions to the vaccines. The potentially serious complications of some vaccine-preventable diseases include:

  • Measles – Measles can lead to ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain that can cause convulsions, deafness, mental retardation or even death).
  • Mumps – Serious complications can include meningitis (inflammation of the cover of the brain and spinal cord) or encephalitis.
  • Diphtheria – If not treated promptly, diphtheria can produce a toxin (poison) that spreads through the body causing serious complications such as heart failure or paralysis.
  • Tetanus (“lockjaw”) – Like diphtheria, tetanus can produce a toxin that spreads through the body, causing muscle spasms in the neck, arms, legs and stomach.
  • Pertussis (“whooping cough”) – Violent coughing spells can go for weeks, causing difficulty with eating, drinking or breathing and leading to major complications such as pneumonia, convulsions and encephalopathy (a brain disorder).
  • Polio – Polio attacks the nervous system. Symptoms can range from flu-like symptoms to total paralysis. Before the polio vaccine became available in 1955, polio killed tens of thousands and left many more paralyzed. The U.S. has not had a reported case of polio since 1979, but Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria still have frequent outbreaks. The greatest risk factor for polio is not being vaccinated.
  • Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B – Both of these viruses cause liver disease, which may lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
  • Rubella (German Measles) – Generally a mild disease that causes a fever, swollen glands in the back of the neck and a rash on the face and neck, rubella presents the greatest risk to unborn babies. If a woman gets rubella early in pregnancy, there is an 80 percent chance the baby will be born deaf or blind, with a damaged heart or brain.

“Most kids have no reaction to their vaccinations other than minor soreness at the injection site,” Dr. Peela says. “Sometimes a child may experience a low-grade fever, a mild rash around the injection site or a slight sense of fatigue or tiredness. The dangers associated with not being vaccinated are far more serious than those fairly common mild reactions.”

Learn More

If you need help finding a physician for your child, visit and click on the tab for “Find My Physician.”

For a complete schedule of vaccines recommended by the CDC, visit For recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatricians, visit and click on the link for “Information for Parents.”

For information on immunizations from the California Department of Public Health, visit and click on the link for “Healthy Living” under the tab for “Health Information.”