The go-ahead to vaccinate children ages 12 to 15 against COVID-19 is a critical triumph in the battle against coronavirus. Besides protecting against severe illness, vaccination will prevent young adolescents from spreading the virus to others, including people with cancer or rare immune disorders who may not be able to get vaccinated.
The COVID-19 vaccine now takes its place alongside other essential childhood vaccinations against potentially deadly illnesses such as chicken pox, diphtheria, H flu, hepatitis A and B, HPV, measles, meningococcal bacteria, mumps, whooping cough, pneumococcus, polio, rotavirus, rubella, shingles, tetanus, yellow fever, and typhoid, says board certified general pediatrician David Laufgraben, M.D.
Although many highly contagious diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, and typhoid are far less common today than they were decades ago, they are not gone. For example, as recently as 2019, an outbreak of more than 600 cases of measles struck New York. “Because vaccination works, the diseases they prevent are less common than they used to be, but we continue to vaccinate to keep kids safe and prevent these dangerous illnesses from returning- they are still out there,” Dr. Laufgraben cautions.
Childhood vaccines are all extremely safe. Made from small amounts of weakened or killed virus or bacteria, which primes the immune system to respond to a real infection, they are unlikely to cause serious illness or side effects. “Vaccines are generally well tolerated by kids and infants,” Dr. Laufgraben says. Common minor side effects, like fever, fussiness, or redness at the injection site, usually fade within a day or two.
Some parents worry about childhood vaccines triggering autism, yet no study has ever established such a link. “After extensive study, we know that childhood vaccines do not cause autism,” Dr. Laufgraben says. Similarly, there is no relationship between early childhood vaccines and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, he adds.
Yes. Fear or mistrust of vaccines causes some parents to delay, if not avoid them, which can endanger public health. When vaccine rates in communities decline, so does herd immunity, which we acquire when the vast majority of a group is vaccinated. “The more people choose not to get vaccinated, the easier it becomes for even rare contagious diseases to spread because there are fewer protected people able to stop their transmission,” he explains. This increases the chances for disease outbreaks, like the 2019 measles epidemic, to occur. Citing another example, Dr. Laufgraben notes the 95% drop in chicken pox cases since the introduction of the chicken pox vaccine. Yet, this progress can reverse if vaccine rates fall. “More kids skipping the chickenpox vaccine would lead to more chicken pox in circulation. Some children who get chickenpox would become seriously ill. Chickenpox can even be fatal at times. We would also lose herd immunity and increase the likelihood that high-risk people, such as cancer patients or pregnant women, could become infected with chicken pox and experience serious complications,” he says.
The yearly flu vaccine, which doctors recommend for children ages 6 months and older, is very important, Dr. Laufgraben says. “While we are still experiencing a surge of COVID cases around the country, the last thing we want is for people to get very sick from the flu.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports combination vaccines as a way of reducing the number of shots that children need. “Our immune system can handle multiple vaccines given at the same time,” Dr. Laufgraben says. “When we give them this way, it allows us to protect kids from more diseases at the earliest possible age.”
Childhood vaccinations begin at birth with the first dose of the vaccine for HepatitisB and continues on until age 18 with the Meningococcal B vaccine. Recommended vaccines are: