By Terry Kelly
Get Your Vaccines!
Remember, vaccines aren’t just for kids. If you have not yet been vaccinated, contact your primary care physician to talk about the vaccines you need.
On average, 10,926 babies are born in the United States every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccines can protect those infants from 14 different diseases before they reach their second birthday.
“Vaccines are very safe and work very well to protect babies against really serious and dangerous diseases,” says Heather Pratt-Chavez, MD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UNM Health. “Immunizing infants on the vaccination schedule that is recommended by the CDC and supported by the World Health Organization and years of research is the gold-standard of medical care. It’s the highest and best possible care we can give our children. It’s what we strive for as pediatricians. People all over the world follow our model of medical care.”
Vaccines will prevent approximately 381 million illnesses, 24.5 million hospitalizations and 855,000 deaths in children born between 1994 and 2016, according to a CDC report.
“Vaccines are well-supported, low-risk, protective medicine,” Pratt-Chavez says. “We are preventing our kids from even getting sick.”
Both Pratt-Chavez and Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition (NMIC), stress there is no reason, other than certain health conditions, that should prevent parents from vaccinating their kids.
“New Mexico is a universal purchase state,” Pentler explains, “which means that any child in New Mexico can get all recommended vaccines for no cost to parents. There is no financial barrier to getting children immunized.”
The NMIC offers plenty of resources for parents who have questions about vaccines including information sheets showing how safe and effective they are, as well as magnets with an immunization schedule for parents of newborn children.
“We try to make it as accessible as possible,” Pentler says. “We try very hard to make information available to the people who need it, but if parents have more questions they should talk to their provider. There is so much bad information or misinformation on the internet, that it is hard for parents to navigate that. Their provider, pediatrician or nurse practitioner will be able to answer their concerns.”
“It can be very confusing to find the right information about vaccines when doing your own research,” she says. “But if you have questions you should talk to your pediatrician.”
Pentler says parents should absolutely not shy away from learning about these illnesses.
“Because we’ve done such a good job immunizing kids, we don’t see many of these diseases anymore,” she says. “Most of these parents have never experienced anyone with these diseases, so they think there is no real risk to these diseases. But all it takes is one person on a plane from another part of the world to start an outbreak. Once people see how serious these diseases can be, they would of course say they never want their child to experience that. One three-second shot and a sore arm for maybe a day is nothing compared to what their kid would experience if they caught one of these diseases.”
Pratt-Chavez adds how she has seen children go deaf from meningitis. “When you see the effects of diseases we can protect against it can have a huge impact.”
It’s also important to note the following about vaccines:
- Protection against diseases often begins even before a baby is born. Pregnant women can get a Tdap booster (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) to increase immunity to pertussis (whooping cough) to their child.
- Vaccines don’t overwhelm babies’ immune systems, they just activate them. “These vaccines involve very small doses that are probably smaller than the germs our kids get when they’re crawling around on the floor,” Pratt-Chavez says.
- Another important reason to vaccinate is for herd immunity, which requires 90-95 percent of the population to be immunized to protect those who can’t receive the vaccines. “There are some really vulnerable people in our community who can’t get the vaccines,” says Pratt-Chavez. “Some children have cancer or other immune-suppressed states, like kids who get kidney or other organ transplants or little newborns who are not old enough to get vaccines. Older folks and pregnant women fall into that category as well. I bet each one of us has someone in our family whom we really love that is vulnerable. We should do what we can to protect these people in our community.”
- Many public health offices, including five in Bernalillo County and two in Sandoval County, allow you to quickly get your child up-to-date on immunizations. This is especially useful during the summer months when trying to meet vaccination requirements to register for school.
- Serious adverse reactions to vaccines are very rare. Minor side affects, such as redness and swelling at the injection site, typically go away on their own within a few days. If you see something that concerns you, call your child’s doctor.