Vaccinating your children and yourself is vital for personal health, but it’s also crucial for herd immunity, which protects those too young or ill to vaccinate. Maintain a proper vaccination schedule for yourself and your children to avoid contracting serious infections.
How Immunity Works
The immune system is a network of cells, organs, fluids, and glands located throughout the body. You are born with an immune system that grows and becomes stronger as you do. The immune system recognizes germs, or antigens, and produces antibodies to fight specific ones. The antibodies produced to fight the measles virus, for instance, are different from those produced to fight rubella or mumps.
Some people, particularly those who are anti-vaccination, assume the best way to build immunity is to get sick first. They distrust vaccines because vaccines have long been associated with complications and disabilities such as autism. In reality, there is no link between vaccinations and disease or disability; studies purporting such links have been discredited.
Vaccines contain weak or dead versions of the same antigens that cause diseases. When these antigens are injected into the body, the immune system fights them off and will recognize them in the future. That way, the person gets protection without the illness.
Herd, or community immunity, occurs when a critical portion of a population is immunized against a certain disease. Herd immunity has been used to control several preventable diseases, including influenza, rotavirus, and pneumococcal diseases. These diseases are highly contagious, especially among children, and often lead to severe complications.
Despite myth, herd immunity does not naturally occur through exposure to a disease. It can only occur in its most protective form when people are vaccinated. Children in particular are vulnerable because their immune systems are still developing. Be vigilant in getting your infant or toddler all his or her scheduled vaccinations.
What Vaccines Does My Child Need?
Your child will receive several vaccinations from birth through 18 months and may need “boosters” or catch-up versions later, especially if a shot is missed. Early childhood vaccines cover rotavirus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumococcal diseases, hepatitis A and B, and many other diseases. For a complete schedule, see your doctor.