Pneumonia Vaccine: Clearing Up the Confusion - Gerald Brown, PA
Clearing Up Vaccine Confusion
Misinformation and fear keep some people from getting vaccinated, raising the risk for future outbreaks.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Vaccination has made many preventable diseases such as polio, diphtheria, and rubella very rare. But misconceptions persist about the importance of vaccines and their safety, and outbreaks still happen as a result.
“The U.S. has seen an uptick in measles activity over the past couple of years, and the majority of Americans who have gotten it are not immunized,” said Gordon E. Schutze, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Cases of whooping cough or pertussis reached epidemic levels in the U.S. last year, in part because people didn’t know about a new booster.
Parents are often alarmed by the number of vaccines recommended for infants and young children. It’s important that “children are given vaccines at a young age because this is when they are most likely to get the disease,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If a child is not vaccinated and is exposed to a disease, the child’s body may not be strong enough to fight disease.”
There’s been a lot of misinformation linking vaccines to health risks such as autism.
“The risk of long-term harm and death is greater when you put your child in a car everyday as compared to vaccinating them,” said Dr. Schutze. “The majority of children have no side effects from immunization, and when they do occur they are usually very minor.”
Though most vaccines are given before a child turns 2 years old, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend booster vaccines and newer shots for older and college-aged kids.
While the Food and Drug Administration regulates vaccines for safety, states set their own vaccination requirements and all require certain vaccinations to attend public schools.
Many states require that students entering college get the relatively new meningitis vaccine, licensed in the U.S. in 2005.
The CDC recommends kids receive the meningitis vaccine when they’re between 11 and 12 years old, followed by a booster shot at age 16.
A potentially life-threatening bacterial infection, meningitis typically strikes adolescents and young adults because certain lifestyle factors — such as irregular sleep and crowded living conditions like you’d find in a dorm — increase the risk of getting it.
“Within a couple of hours, you can literally be at death's door,” said Donald Murphey, infectious disease specialist at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.
The chickenpox or varicella vaccine is mandatory for admission to elementary school in most states.
The vaccine was introduced in 1995 and is part of routine childhood immunizations — the initial dose is given after a child’s first birthday, and a second between ages 4 and 6.
“Because children are being routinely vaccinated in the U.S., the chance of being exposed to cases of chickenpox is decreasing,” said Sharon Humiston, MD, associate director for research at the Immunization Action Coalition and professor of pediatrics and University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The CDC reports more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented every year by the varicella vaccine. “This is great news in a short time,” said Dr. Humiston.
One of the more recent vaccine recommendations is for the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer. HPV is extremely common — it affects nearly 80 million Americans, and 8 out of 10 women will contract HPV by the age of 50, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for girls and boys at age 11 or 12, as well as for teenagers who didn’t get the vaccine when they were younger. A recent study in The Journal of Infectious Diseases shows a 56 percent reduction in vaccine-type HPV among female teenagers between 14 and 19 years of age.
“You get a really robust immune response from kids that age, which results in better protection,” said Kim Fallon, MD, a gynecologist who specializes in adolescent health at the Valley Medical Group in Ridgewood, N.J.
The HPV vaccine isn’t without controversy. Many parents opt not to have their kids vaccinated because they believe it may encourage sexual activity. Only one third of teen girls get the recommended three doses of the vaccine, according to the CDC.
Other Common Vaccines
The following are some other CDC and AAP recommendations for childhood vaccines.
Complete information about state and school vaccination requirements is available on the CDC’s website:
- Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis:First four doses recommended before 18 months, fifth dose recommended between ages 4 and 6.
- Polio:First three doses given before 18 months, fourth dose recommended between ages 4 and 6.
- Flu shot:Recommended every year before peak flu season.
- Measles, mumps and rubella: First dose recommended between 12 and 15 months; second dose recommended between ages 4 and 6.
- Meningitis:First dose recommended between ages 11 and 12 with a booster given at age 16.
Video: Are Vaccines Safe?
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