Vaccinations have proven to be one of the most important methods available to protect children from a number of life-threatening and disabling diseases. When a child is immunized, the vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies—the same way the body would respond if the child were exposed to the disease. The resulting immunity is what makes vaccines such powerful medicine. Unlike most medicines that treat and cure disease, vaccines prevent them!
Why are vaccinations important?
There are a variety of reasons why getting vaccinated is important for children and, on a wider scale, all global citizens.
- Immunizations save lives. Because of advances in medical science, some diseases that once injured or took the lives of thousands of children have been eliminated (such as polio). Other diseases are rarely seen, thanks to safe and effective vaccinations (such as measles and whooping cough).
- Vaccinations are safe and effective. Vaccines are only given to children after a long and careful review by scientists, doctors, and health care professionals, as well as extensive testing by the Food and Drug Administration. Vaccines can cause some discomfort, pain, redness, or tenderness at the site of injection, but this is minimal compared to the pain, discomfort, and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent.
- Unvaccinated people may be denied access to certain places and activities. A child who is not vaccinated for a preventable disease can be denied attendance to schools or child care facilities.
- Immunizations save families time and money. . Some preventable diseases result in prolonged disabilities that require long-term care and additional medical costs.
- Immunization protects future generations. In just a few generations, vaccines have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many deadly or debilitating diseases. For example, smallpox vaccination eradicated the disease worldwide. If we continue vaccinating, some of the diseases affecting children today will be eliminated in the future.
What if we stopped vaccinating?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diseases almost unknown today would stage a comeback. Other diseases that are nearly under control would grow into epidemics.
For example, in 2000, the U.S. declared that measles was eliminated from this country. That means that there is the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more. The U.S. was able to eliminate measles because it has
a highly effective measles vaccine and a strong vaccination program that achieves high vaccine coverage in children. However, the outbreak in several U.S. states in late 2014/early 2015 was caused by measles being brought into the country by unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) and spread to other people who are not protected against the measles. Pockets of unvaccinated people have been increasing, which poses a threat to those who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young, have weakened immune systems, or another medical condition in which getting vaccinated would pose a serious health risk.
Diseases like the measles increase the likelihood of serious childhood illness and mortality, so vaccinations are the first and best defense for a healthy population.
For more information about immunizations for children with special health care needs, visit the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/index.html.