Vaccination myths and when kids need each shot

Pediatricians answer common questions about vaccine safety, side effects and schedules

Happy child in face mask rolls up his sleeve for a nurse to sanitize his upper arm for flu vaccination.

Getting an immunization is never fun, but those few, quick seconds of discomfort are the best ways to protect your body from some truly devastating diseases.

From the mumps and measles to polio and smallpox, vaccines are proven to lower, and in some cases eradicate, the instances of these diseases.

However, in recent years, some parents are choosing to forgo vaccinations due to worries over side effects and long-term complications. Sanford Health pediatricians answer parents’ common questions about vaccinations.

Are immunizations safe?

Yes, says Christina daSilva, D.O., a pediatrician at the Sanford Children’s Campus in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“All immunizations – or vaccines – are fully tested for safety,” Dr. daSilva said. “The approval process used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is rigorous.”

Judit Chavarria, M.D., a pediatrician at Sanford Worthington in Minnesota, assures parents that while it is 100% their decision whether to vaccinate, the risks associated with immunizations are very minimal.

“Like with any shot, the patient may feel some pain or soreness in the area where the injection was given,” says Dr. Chavarria. “There are a few instances of fever, but beyond that, more serious issues rarely occur.”

How do immunizations work?

Immunizations work by teaching your child’s body how to defend itself from certain diseases, Dr. daSilva explained.

Some immunizations contain a dead or weakened form of a virus or bacteria. Others, like the COVID-19 vaccine, deliver instructions on how to create a protein that triggers an immune response.

Get your COVID/flu vaccine: Find a Sanford Health clinic near you

During an illness, the body develops antibodies designed to fight off that disease. Immunizations teach the immune system how to create those antibodies without your child getting sick.

“Many vaccinations need booster shots to make them the most effective,” Dr. Chavarria said. “Just one dose typically isn’t enough to produce the amount of antibodies needed to develop the best immune response. Depending on the vaccine, you might need one or two as a child and then one later as an adult for optimal immunity.”

What about diseases that are rare in the U.S.? Are immunizations for those still important?

Those diseases are rare because of immunizations, Dr. daSilva said. Immunizations have reduced infections such as polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles and rubella.

Some illnesses have made a recent resurgence. Diseases such as measles are still common elsewhere in the world. Travelers can bring these diseases back into this country. Without immunizations, the reintroduced diseases can spread quickly. For example, North Dakota has seen outbreaks of whooping cough in the past few years.

“With the help of vaccines, we have significantly diminished a number of diseases in the U.S.,” Dr. Chavarria said. “They are rare, but they are still there. Just look at the outbreak at a major American theme park. Hundreds of people contracted the highly contagious measles virus because many weren’t vaccinated.”

In this instance, many of those who became ill chose not to be vaccinated. However, some individuals were unable to receive a vaccination due to age or a compromised immune system.

Do immunizations cause harmful side effects?

“The risk for serious side effects or death from an immunization is so small that it’s difficult to document,” Dr. daSilva said. “In contrast, there is a much higher risk of serious illness from the diseases that immunizations can prevent.”

Some children experience minor side effects from immunizations. These can include low-grade fever, fussiness and soreness or swelling at the injection site. It’s very rare to have a severe reaction, Dr. daSilva said.

“Claims that immunizations cause autism or other diseases have been thoroughly disproven,” she added. “After a careful review, the Institute of Medicine rejected the idea that immunizations have any relationship to autism in 2004.”

Do I have to give my child every recommended immunization?

A lot of research went into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended schedule, according to Dr. daSilva. Sticking to the schedule means your child is immunized at the best times to protect them from infectious diseases.

“Cherry-picking which immunizations to give a child is very risky,” she said. “When too many children skip immunizations, the community’s immunization rate drops. Serious preventable diseases can become more common.”

Dr. Chavarria agrees.

“Not vaccinating your child not only puts them at risk but everyone else they come into contact with,” Dr. Chavarria said. “I just really want to encourage parents to discuss any fears they may have about vaccines with their pediatrician so they can make an informed decision about their child’s health care.”

How can my children get the immunizations they need?

It’s easy, Dr. DaSilva says. Keep regular wellness visits with their pediatrician. Pediatricians make sure children’s immunization status is up to date and provide essential routine health care.

Call your child’s primary care provider to schedule a wellness visit.

Vaccination schedule

According to the CDC, here are the common vaccinations all healthy children should receive, what they protect against and how often they should be administered:

  • Hepatitis B (Hep B): between 1 and 2 months, and between 6 and 18 months
  • Rotavirus (RV): 2 months, 4 months and 6 months
  • Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTaP): protects against whooping cough; 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, between 4 and 6 years old, followed by a booster every 10 years
  • Influenza B (Hib): 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and between 12 and 15 months
  • Common strains of influenza (Flu): annually starting at 6 months old
  • Pneumococcus (PCV): 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and between 12 and 15 months
  • Polio (IPV): 2 months, 4 months, between 6 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR): between 12 and 15 months, and between 4 and 6 years old
  • Chickenpox (Varicella): between 12 and 15 months, and between 4 and 6 years old
  • Hepatitis A (Hep A): two-dose series beginning at 12 months, and a second dose given again 6 months later
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): two-dose series beginning at age 11-12. May require three doses depending on age at initial vaccination.
  • Meningococcal disease (MCV4): between 11 and 12 years, and at 16 years

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Posted In Back to School, Bismarck, Children's, Family Medicine, Flu, Immunizations, Worthington