Recognizing the Importance of Vaccines

By Jennifer Yen, clinical pharmacist at CHOC Children’s

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance highlighting the importance of vaccinations in people of all ages. August is a great time to make sure everyone is up-to-date on their vaccines, as the summer starts to wind down and children prepare to head back to school. It is also a great time to start planning ahead to receive the flu vaccine.

The immunization schedule outlined by Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics has been shown to be the most effective and safest way to protect your child from potentially fatal diseases. Other proposed alternative schedules have not been researched to show their safety or effectiveness. However, if any of the vaccines are delayed, your child is still able to receive them and “catch-up” before adolescence. Infants who have been vaccinated according to the schedule are protected from 14 diseases by the time they turn 2.

By getting your vaccination, you are not only protecting yourself, you are protecting those who are unable to receive vaccines, such as infants who are too young to start vaccinations and those with weakened immune systems who cannot receive vaccinations. Many vaccine-preventable diseases are still common in other parts of the world.

Don’t Forget Your Flu Shot

Flu season usually peaks between December and February, but can start as early as October and last as late as May. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older, and encourages the public to receive one as soon as the flu vaccine becomes available to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. Check with your primary care provider if you should receive a total of one or two doses per season, dependent upon vaccination history.

Talk to your doctor or other health care professional to make sure you and your loved ones are up-to-date on vaccinations. Families who need help paying for childhood vaccines should ask their healthcare professional about the Vaccines for Children Program, which provides vaccines at no cost to eligible children who do not otherwise have access to recommended childhood vaccines.

Learn more about vaccinations and how they can protect your children and community.

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New Vaccination Law: What it Means for Your Family

Echoing longstanding recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics supporting childhood immunizations, a new vaccination law in California eliminates the ability to cite a ‘personal belief exemption’ from mandatory childhood vaccinations. This means that in order to be enrolled in public or private child care centers,  preschools, primary or secondary schools, children must be vaccinated against the following  10 diseases: diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b (bacterial meningitis), measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, rubella, tetanus, hepatitis B and chicken pox. We spoke to Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, on what this new vaccination law means for children and families.

Dr. Katherine Roberts
Dr. Katherine Williamson

Q: What does California’s new vaccination law mean for children and families?

A: Some parents think that this means vaccines are now mandatory- but for decades, every state in the U.S. has required that children be vaccinated against certain diseases. This change means that personal belief exemptions to these long-standing mandatory vaccines can no longer be applied. It will make schools a safer place for children- those who are already healthy, and those who are immunocompromised. California is not an anomaly in creating a law such as this. Many other states have already adopted similar laws, and results in those places show that they’ve been successful in preventing outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

Q: Why is it important for parents to follow the immunization schedule outlined by the AAP?

A: The current immunization schedule outlined by the AAP and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been researched and proven to be the most effective and safest way for children to be vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases. It’s important to know that there’s no existing alternative schedule that has been studied to show it’s as safe and effective.

I get frequent questions from expectant and new parents who are concerned about the number of vaccines given to kids at one time under this schedule. The amount of antigen in the vaccine that is put into their child’s body is 10,000 to 100,000 times less than if they just got a common cold, so there’s no chance of overwhelming their immune system.

Q: How do medical exemptions affect children through this new law?

A: Medical exemptions to vaccines are not common, but children that qualify would still be exempt, as they are immunocompromised, or in even less frequent instances, they have allergic reactions to vaccines. Children with medical exemptions will be in a much safer position because they won’t be surrounded by other kids who could pass on a fatal dose of measles, for example.

Q: How do vaccines fit into a patient’s overall lifelong medical care?

A: Vaccines and proper hand washing, more so than all other interventions, have proven to be among the most safe and effective ways to prevent disease.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with parents about vaccines?

A: All diseases for which kids are vaccinated in U.S. have the potential to be fatal, and we still see instances of these diseases. While some are in higher rates than others, all have increased in frequency in areas where children are not vaccinated, and international travel makes even diseases such as polio a potential risk.

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The HPV Vaccine: A Doctor’s Perspective

By Dr. Shruti Vora, pediatric resident at CHOC

What is HPV?

Human papilloma virus affects nearly all sexually active men and women at some point in their lives according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people “clear” or fight off their infections within one to two years, never knowing that they ever had an infection at all. A percentage of people with the virus do not clear their infections and may develop genital warts, cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, and penile cancers.

What is the vaccine made of?

Scientists use a “virus-like particle” to make the HPV vaccine. It cannot cause HPV because it is not a portion of the actual virus. The serotypes (specific strains) responsible for the majority of cancers are HPV 16 and 18.  Ninety percent of genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and 11. All four serotypes are contained in the quadrivalent (four type) Gardasil vaccine. Gardasil 9, which covers nine additional strains, will soon be replacing the quadrivalent Gardasil, offering even better protection.

If HPV is transmitted sexually, and my child is not having sex, why do they need to get the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is a preventative vaccine. Studies have shown that in patients who never had HPV, the effectiveness of preventing pre-cancerous changes to the cervix was 97-100 percent . This is why the vaccine is recommended in all girls before they begin to be sexually active. The vaccine is also known to be more effective when given at a younger age. It is recommended in girls 9-26 years of age.

My son is not at risk for cervical cancer, why should he get the vaccine?

The vaccine is recommended in all boys ages 9-21 years due to the fact that many head and neck, penile and anal cancers are directly linked to HPV serotypes 16 and 18. Vaccinating males can also help prevent cervical cancer in their female partners by reducing the rate of transmission.

I am concerned that my child will become sexually active at an earlier age because they received the HPV vaccine.

This is a common concern and actually has been studied multiple times. In the journal Pediatrics in 2012, doctors looked at the medical records of 493 girls who received the HPV vaccine and 905 who did not. There was no difference between the number of pregnancies, rates of sexually transmitted disease testing, or discussions regarding birth control between the two groups.

How do we know that giving the vaccine will not have any side effects?

The most common side effect has been pain and redness at the site of the shot. Fainting has also been reported as the second most common side effect, but the CDC has recommended some years ago for all patients to stay seated or lying flat for 15 minutes after the injection is given. This has greatly reduced the number of fainting spells and subsequent falls.

The HPV vaccine is a rare opportunity for you to make an investment in your child’s future and potentially prevent cancer in our young ones.  Ask your pediatrician about it.

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Childhood Vaccinations

To ensure maximum protection against diseases, children should receive vaccinations at the correct, recommended age, a CHOC Children’s infectious disease specialist tells Research 360,° a podcast highlighting research at the hospital.

In this segment, Dr. Antonio Arrieta discusses proper timing of vaccinations, dispels myths surrounding vaccinations, and details his current research at CHOC. Listen in to hear more about childhood vaccinations.

Hosted by Executive Director of Research Brent Dethlefs, Research 360° features interviews with scientists, physicians, educators, scientific news-and policy-makers to provide the listening audience with context, and scientific and social commentary intended to engage and inform.

Learn more about CHOC’s Research Institute.

Protect Your Child With Vaccinations

National Infant Immunization Week (April 21-28) is coming up, and highlights the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases. This important campaign is a call to action for parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers to ensure that infants are fully immunized against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases, such as influenza, hepatitis, pertussis, and more.

In the United States, vaccines have reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed thousands of infants and children each year. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable disease and death still exist and can be passed on to people who are not immunized. These diseases result in doctor visits, hospitalizations, and even death.

To help protect your child, be sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician to ensure that your little one is up-to-date on his immunizations.

For a schedule of recommended immunizations for children from birth to six years old, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, please click here:

For an adolescent immunization schedule, or to learn more, please click here:

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