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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

April 29, 2022
Vaccines and kids: What parents should know
Vaccines and kids: What parents should know

Each year during the last week of April, the World Health Organization celebrates World Immunization Week – an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of vaccines and in turn, offer reminders about their safety and effectiveness in keeping people healthy.

We understand that many parents and caregivers have questions about vaccines. We spoke to Dr. Wendy Bernatavicius, division chief of primary, complex care and adolescent medicine at Phoenix Children’s, to answer the most common questions she gets in her practice about vaccines, and what she wants caregivers to know.

My child is healthy. Why do they need vaccines?

The diseases that vaccines can either prevent or make less severe, don’t only affect children with compromised immune systems. For example, the pertussis vaccine can prevent whooping cough. When some babies catch whooping cough, it can cause a long cough, but for others it can cause life-threatening illness. We choose to get vaccinated not just for us, but to contribute to the protection of others. The more that healthy people get vaccinated, the more protection that our immunocompromised friends and neighbors will have, and the more protection babies will have before their immune systems are fully developed.

Do we still need to get vaccinated against things like polio and hepatitis, and why?

The reason we don’t see as much disease in our everyday lives is because vaccines are so effective. It’s easy to get complacent and think we don’t need these vaccines anymore, but the very reason we don’t see as much polio, for example, is because we have been successful in vaccinating against it. We need to continue to vaccinate to keep these diseases at bay. For example, sometimes we can see outbreaks of measles and chicken pox when those vaccination numbers dip.

What are long-term side effects of vaccines?

The most common side effects of a vaccine are redness at the site of injection and feeling a little bit under the weather with a low-grade temperature. These side effects will typically resolve within a few days.

Each individual vaccine itself has some more concerning side effects, but those are rare. Before a child receives a vaccine, their caregiver or family receives an informational sheet with specific rare side effects.

It’s also important to remember that we must consider the likelihood of disease. Yes, we need to be concerned with potential side effects of a vaccine, but we also need to talk about long-term potential side effects of pneumonia, that vaccines can help prevent.

Can a vaccine make someone sick?

Some people think you can get the flu from getting an influenza vaccine, or that you can catch COVID-19 from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Neither of those vaccines contain the live virus, so it is impossible to get the flu from getting an influenza vaccine, and it is impossible to get COVID-19 from getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Any side effects that you experience after a vaccine can be attributed to your body doing its job and mounting an immune response.

Is it safe for my child to get more than one vaccine at a time?

Some families are worried about overwhelming their child’s immune system by giving them more than one vaccine at a time. It’s important for us to remember that a child’s immune system is activated quite frequently by coming into contact with things in our everyday environment, such as touching objects and then putting their hands in their mouth. In addition, scientific data show that getting several vaccines at the same time does not cause any chronic health problems and is tolerated well.

Is there anything else you want parents to know about vaccines?

There have been very few interventions that we have developed over the course of time in medicine that have had as huge an impact on the health of our community as antibiotics and vaccines.

As a physician, there’s not a lot of things I can do to make sure a patient is as healthy as possible in terms of prevention, other than vaccines. This is something we can give to prevent a child from dying from certain diseases, or from or being paralyzed from polio.

These vaccines essentially trick your body into thinking you have this virus, so your body knows how to fight it if you ever do get the live virus. You might get a low-grade fever or experience fatigue, but that is just your immune system working. After your vaccination if you do come into contact with the live virus somewhere in your community and contract influenza or COVID-19, for example, your case won’t be as severe.

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