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Immunization

Children should be vaccinated to protect them against infectious diseases. Vaccines are preparations that contain either noninfectious fragments of bacteria or viruses or whole forms of these organisms that have been weakened so that they do not cause disease. Giving a vaccine (usually by injection) stimulates the body's immune system to defend against that disease. Vaccination is performed to produce a state of immunity to disease and is thus sometimes termed immunization.

Vaccines have eliminated smallpox and have nearly eliminated other infections, such as polio and measles, that were once common childhood scourges. Despite this success, it is important for health care practitioners to continue to vaccinate children. Many of the diseases prevented by vaccination are still common in parts of the world. These diseases can spread rapidly among unvaccinated children, who, because of the ease of modern travel, can be exposed even if they live in areas where a disease is not common.

No vaccine is 100% effective and 100% safe. A few vaccinated children fail to become immune, and a few develop side effects. Most often, the side effects are minor, such as pain at the injection site, an itchy rash, or a mild fever. Very rarely, there are more serious problems. Vaccines are continuously undergoing improvements to ensure safety and effectiveness. Recent improvements include the use of acellular pertussis (DTaP), which has a much lower chance of causing side effects than the previously used whole-cell pertussis (DPT) vaccine, and the use of an inactivated, injectable polio vaccine (IVP) instead of the previously used oral polio vaccine. The oral polio vaccine, which is made of a live, weakened virus, can cause polio if the weakened virus mutates, which happens once in every 2.4 million children. Although this is an extremely small chance, it led doctors in the United States to completely switch to the injectable polio vaccine. Febrile seizures (seizures that are triggered by a fever) have occurred in about 3 in 10,000 children after receiving the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Although the public press has reported concerns that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine may produce autism, scientific evidence shows that this does not happen.

When considering the risks of vaccination, parents must remember that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

The recommended ages for vaccinations should not be construed as absolute. For example, 2 months can mean 6 to 10 weeks. Although parents should try to have their children vaccinated according to the schedule, a slight delay does not interfere with the final immunity achieved nor does it entail restarting the series of injections from the beginning. Vaccination need not be delayed, however, if the infant has a slight fever from a mild infection, such as an ordinary cold. Some vaccines are recommended only under special circumstances.

More than one vaccine may be given during a visit to the doctor's office, but several vaccines are often combined into one injection, for example, pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccines. A combination vaccine reduces the number of injections needed but does not reduce the safety or effectiveness of the vaccines.
 

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