Written by Jamie Lober
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers great tips for parents on what they can do before, during, and after vaccine visits to make them easier and less stressful. We offer a few of those tips here, but for full details as well as recommended immunization schedules, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/visit/index.html
It is never too early for parents to sit down and have a candid talk about immunizations starting with the basics. A good way to look at a vaccine is like a weakened form of an organism. “If you think of it like a security system for your body, a vaccine’s sole purpose is to expose your immune system to an illness which is an intruder so that when your body sees this trespasser again in its full-blown capacity you are programmed with the tools or antibodies needed to fight off that infection before it has the chance to cause harm to your body,” said Dr. Sabrina Clark, pediatrician at NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care.
When it comes to disease prevention, making sure your child is vaccinated is the number one best thing you can do. “The number of cases of most vaccine-preventable illnesses in the United States declined by more than 90 percent after routine childhood immunizations were introduced,” said Clark. Kids also battle with what are called super bugs which are bugs that become resistant to antibiotics. Vaccines can help to fight these bugs before they cause illness and cut back on your kid’s antibiotic use.
Vaccinate early and often. “The first vaccine recommended is the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine which is routinely given at birth before leaving the hospital,” said Clark. When your child has his immunizations he is improving the health of the whole community. “Stay in contact and stay in care with your pediatrician so vaccines are not skipped or missed because often times if appointments are missed you can miss some of the crucial schedules for vaccine times,” said Dr. Sherri Onyiego, chronic disease prevention physician at Harris County Public Health. Unfortunately some parents may opt out of vaccines because they do not understand. “Young children’s immune systems are developing so these vaccinations reduce potential for acute illnesses such as the flu, whooping cough and meningitis that can be contagious and spread,” said Onyiego.
Knowing what to expect can make you feel at ease. Common side effects include fever, redness, swelling or irritation at the vaccine site and fussiness. “The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System keeps track of adverse reactions associated with vaccine administration and patients are strongly encouraged to call and report any serious reactions so they are documented and monitored over time,” said Clark.
There are many myths circulating in our community. In 1998 an article stated that there was a relationship between the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine and autism and in 2004 it was addressed that the article was false. There are also rumors that vaccines can cause the flu which is not true. “Becoming infected with influenza after being vaccinated is not due to the vaccine itself; it is usually due to contracting a version of the virus that is not covered by the vaccine,” said Clark. The vaccine is actually a great defense as the strains of the flu change annually. “Vaccine developers research what strains of the virus are likely to be prevalent each season and they develop the vaccine to the best of their ability based off of that information,” said Clark. Parents should also know that there is no credible evidence showing an association between vaccines and autoimmune disorders or other chronic diseases.
When you are armed with information it becomes clear that vaccines save lives. Of course it is one of the many decisions you have to make as a parent. “As healthcare providers our job is to provide evidence-based recommendations, advice and follow the standard of care for our patients,” said Clark. If you have questions or concerns you can address them with a trusted pediatrician who will educate and advocate on what is best for your child.
At the Doctor’s Office
If you have questions about immunizations, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor or nurse. Your child’s doctor will give you Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) for the shots that your child will be getting that day. VIS include information about the risks and benefits of each vaccine. If you don’t receive one, be sure to request before you leave.
For babies and younger children
- Distract and comfort your child by cuddling, singing, or talking softly.
- Smile and make eye contact with your child. Let your child know that everything is ok.
- Comfort your child with a favorite toy or book. A blanket that smells familiar will help your child feel more comfortable.
- Hold your child firmly on your lap, whenever possible.
- Soothe your baby with swaddling or skin-to-skin contact, breastfeed
- Offer a sweet beverage like juice (when the child is older than 6 months)
- After the shots: hold, cuddle, and for infants, breastfeed or offer a bottle.
For older children
- Be honest with your child. Explain that shots can pinch or sting, but that it won’t hurt for long.
- Engage other family members, especially older siblings, to support your child.
- Avoid telling scary stories or making threats about shots.
- Remind children that vaccines can keep them healthy.
- Take deep breaths with your child to help “blow out” the pain.
- Point out interesting things in the room to help create distractions.
- Tell or read stories.
- Support your child if he or she cries. Never scold a child for not “being brave.”