Vaccination FAQs and when kids need each shot

A pediatrician answers common questions about vaccine safety, side effects and schedules

Vaccination FAQs and when kids need each shot

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 children’s primary care provider answers 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.”

She tells parents that while it is 100% their decision whether to vaccinate, the risks associated with immunizations are very minimal.

With any shot, the patient may feel some pain or soreness in the area where the injection was given. 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 a 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.

Keep in mind: Many vaccinations need booster shots to make them the most effective. Just one dose typically isn’t enough to produce the number 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 the United States. Without high immunization rates, the reintroduced diseases can spread quickly.

For example, in late 2022, a measles outbreak in central Ohio made 85 people sick; 80 of them had not received the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their median age was less than 1 year old.

In addition, nearly half of the Ohio measles patients were hospitalized with complications. At the same time, local hospitals were already experiencing a peak in emergency department visits for COVID-19, RSV and influenza.

With the MMR vaccine series starting at 12 to 15 months, some patients were too young to receive that immunization. That’s why it’s important for everyone who is eligible for the vaccine to get vaccinated, Dr. daSilva said – to help protect those who can’t.

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 CDC’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.”

In other words, not vaccinating your child not only puts them at risk but also everyone else they meet. Children’s primary care providers at Sanford Health encourage parents to discuss any fears they may have about vaccines with their provider so they can make an informed decision about their child’s health care.

You can find the current recommended vaccine schedules online.

How can my child get the immunizations they need?

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

Schedule a wellness visit with your child’s primary care provider by calling your local clinic or requesting an appointment online through My Sanford Chart.

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