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Pediatric Immunizations: Everything Parents Need to Know

We know that keeping your child healthy is your top priority. One essential way to do that is through childhood immunizations.

Vaccines are powerful shields that help us stay strong and fight off serious diseases. This is why vaccines like diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) are given starting in the first year of your child’s life.

Still, you might have some questions about benefits and risks. There’s a lot of conflicting information online about childhood vaccinations, so it can be hard to know what’s accurate. 

It’s important to get your information from reliable sources, like your child’s health care provider or trusted medical sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Family Physicians and Banner Health.   

With the help of Scott Olson, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Banner Children’s, we cover everything you need to know about vaccinations, address common questions and myths and share tips to make your child’s shots a breeze.

What are vaccines?

Vaccines are special medicines that help our bodies defend against harmful germs. They are made from tiny pieces of weak or inactive germs that can’t make us sick. 

“When we get vaccinated, our immune system learns how to recognize these germs and creates special defenders called antibodies to fight them,” Dr. Olson said. “So if you ever come across real germs, your body is ready to protect you.”

Why are vaccinations important?

Vaccines are crucial because they stop dangerous diseases from spreading and causing harm. 

When more people are vaccinated, it creates what is called herd immunity. Herd immunity protects the most vulnerable among us – including babies who are still too young to be vaccinated, people who are immunosuppressed or compromised and can’t be vaccinated for one reason or another and older adults. 

The CDC’s recommendations for child and adolescent immunizations can help to keep your child on schedule.

Answers to frequently asked questions

Are vaccines safe?

Yes, vaccines are safe. Vaccines are thoroughly tested before being recommended for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC. Even after approval, their safety is constantly monitored.

“I always explain to parents that if there were a credible association to vaccinations and severe unintended consequences, pediatric health care providers would be the first groups to advocate for safer options, as we all care about our patients and their health,” Dr. Olson said.

Is natural immunity better than vaccination?

No. Getting vaccinated is safer than getting sick. 

“In some cases, getting infected can provide protection from future infections however, many of the infections we vaccinate for carry significant risks of severe disease and complications,” Dr. Olson said. “It’s impossible to predict how your child will react.”

“With immunization, we know that we can generate longstanding immunity against such infections in a controlled manner that does not carry the risks of natural immunity,” he added. 

Do vaccines cause harmful side effects, illness and death?

Serious side effects are very rare – so small that it is hard to document. 

“Most side effects with immunizations relate to either local side effects from injections, such as arm soreness or mild redness where the shot was given, or your body’s immune response to the vaccination, like a low-grade fever or mild fatigue,” Dr. Olson said.

Some years ago, a study claimed scientific evidence linking vaccines to autism. This has been proven false, removed from scientific record and fully retracted. Vaccines do not cause autism.

“Due to concerns raised, large studies have been performed in the United States and internationally to ensure that vaccination is not associated with complications such as autism spectrum disorder,” Dr. Olson said. “All of these studies have shown no association.”

Is getting multiple vaccinations in one visit safe, or should I spread them out?

Getting multiple vaccinations at the same time is safe and doesn’t overload your child’s immune system. It’s more convenient and helps your child get protected faster. 

“Our immune system is incredibly complex and adaptive,” Dr. Olson said. “We are exposed to a world of germs and microbes every day. If your immune system could only respond to a handful of stimuli at one time, it wouldn’t be very effective.”

Why does my child need so many doses of some vaccines and not others?

For some diseases, you only need one or two shots to build strong immunity. 

For some vaccines, like tetanus, COVID-19 and influenza (flu), your protection wears off over time and a booster is needed to maintain protection. Booster shots help to boost or kickstart your immune response. 

Your baby’s first vaccines are given at birth, then at 6 weeks, 4 months and 6 months. Other vaccines and boosters are given over the first few years of their life. 

Even adults require booster shots. Vaccines like the Tdap should be given every 10 years.

Make your child’s shots a breeze

The following are simple ways you can support your child before, during and after their shots:

  1. Find your child’s immunization record: Bring it to the appointment. It’s important to keep your child’s shot record up-to-date and in a safe place, as your child will need it to attend school, play sports and travel abroad. 
  2. Talk to your child: Use age-appropriate language to explain what to expect. Reassure your child that their provider is there to help and that vaccines keep them healthy.
  3. Bring a comfort item: Bring a favorite toy or blanket to help your child feel safe during the visit. 
  4. Distract and relax: During the shot, distract your child with a fun game, story or song. Breastfeeding, if you can, can be a great way to calm – and distract – them during and after their shots.
  5. Use positive reinforcement: Praise and encourage your child to be brave during the visit. A small treat or outing afterward can be a nice reward.
  6. Try to stay calm: Children can pick up on your emotions. Stay calm and positive to help your child feel at ease.
  7. Consider a distraction device: Simple devices such as a Shotblocker or Buzzy may help temporarily distract your child’s nervous system so injections seem less painful.

“Think about what works for your child and discuss it with your child’s health care provider before their vaccination to see how you can incorporate it into the visit,” Dr. Olson said. “Vaccinations are stressful, and most of us who work with children understand and want to make it as low-stress as possible.”

Our experienced health care professionals are ready to answer any questions about your child’s immunizations and help you make informed decisions for their well-being. Find a Banner Health specialist near you.

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Children's Health Parenting Immunizations