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Give It a Shot

The importance of immunizations can't be overlooked

When historians write about the history of medicine 100 years from now, they will cheer one achievement in particular: childhood immunizations.

"Immunization has been cited as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the past century," says Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "We can now protect children from more vaccine-preventable diseases than ever before."

Renee Salvino, MD, board-certified pediatrician and vice chief of Pediatrics at Northwest Community Hospital agrees. "Immunizations are essential for a child's good health from infancy into adulthood," she says. "The mortality rate from common childhood illnesses, like bacterial meningitis, has gone down since we've had more universal vaccinations. Immunizations are highly effective and have certainly changed the face of pediatrics over the years."

The Risk of Skipping Vaccinations

Vaccines help prevent 15 serious—and often deadly—diseases, including polio, diphtheria, hepatitis, measles and bacterial meningitis. Sadly, many children still aren't up-to-date with their shots. That puts them in danger, because children are less able to fight off these infections, and they're more likely to develop serious complications from them.

When parents are reluctant to get their children immunized, vaccine-preventable diseases become more prevalent in young children, stresses Dr. Salvino. "In England, when parents pulled back on the use of the measles vaccine, it resulted in the recurrence of this deadly disease. The same is true of bacterial meningitis—there are pockets of the [U.S.] population that won't let their children get any vaccines. Yet this deadly disease could also easily be prevented." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one child in 30 who gets measles also develops pneumonia. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two die from it. About 70 percent of children under 6 months old who get whooping cough need to be hospitalized. And kids this age account for about 94 percent of all deaths from the disease.

There's Good News

Thanks to vaccines, the number of cases of most of these diseases is at an all-time low here in the U.S. But with international travel so easy these days, viruses are always coming back to our shores. That's why public health experts continue to push parents to get their kids vaccinated. "The suffering or death of even one child from a vaccine-preventable disease is an unnecessary human tragedy," says Schuchat.

Stay on Schedule

Work closely with your doctor to make sure your child gets the right shots at the right age. This general schedule can differ, depending upon where a person lives. Be sure to check with your pediatrician for his or her recommended vaccination schedule.

At Birth

Hepatitis B

1 to 2 Months

Hepatitis B vaccine

2 Months

Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP)
H. influenzae type b (Hib)
Polio (IPV)
Pneumococcal pneumoniae (PCV)
Rotavirus (RV)

4 Months

Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP)
H. influenzae type b (Hib)
Polio (IPV)
Pneumococcal pneumoniae (PCV)
Rotavirus (RV)

After 6 Months, Then Annually

Flu (Influenza)

6 Months

Diphtheria, tetanus, ad pertussis (DTaP)
H. influenzae type b (Hib)
Pneumococcal pneumoniae (PCV)
Polio (IPV}
Rotavirus (RV)

6 to 18 Months

Hepatitis B

12 to 15 Months

H. influenzae type b (Hib)
Measles, mumps rubella (German measles) (MMR)
Pneumococcal pneumoniae (PCV)
Chickenpox (varicella)

15 to 18 Months

Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP)

23 Months

Hepatitis A

4 to 6 Years

Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP)
Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) (MMR)
Polio (IPV)
Chickenpox (varicella)

11 to 12 Years

Human papillomavirus (HPV) series for girls and boys ages 11 to 12, or for girls ages 13 to 18 who didn't get the shot earlier
Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis booster
Meningitis (MCV)

Monika M. Cohen, MD

Renee Salvino, MD

PediatricianVice Chief of Pediatrics at NCH

  • Board-Certified: Pediatrician
  • Medical School: University of Illinois
  • Internship and Residency: Lutheran General Hospital

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Last Updated 04/10/2009