Why immunize? The benefits of vaccines.

For many centuries, smallpox devastated the world, killing millions of people. In 1796, Edward Jenner, an English doctor, inoculated an 8-year-old boy against smallpox and coined the term "vaccination" to describe what he had done. In the 19th and 20th centuries, scientists following Jenner's model developed vaccines to fight numerous deadly diseases.

Thanks to Jenner’s vision, smallpox no longer exists outside of the laboratory, and our children are protected through vaccinations against 14 childhood diseases.

Today, diseases that used to be common in this country and around the world are prevented through routine childhood vaccines. These diseases include Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Influenza, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis, Pneumococcal Disease, Polio, Rotavirus, Rubella, Tetanus and Varicella.

Cheryl Harris, M.D., a physician at Columbus Pediatrics, says vaccines are one of the best treatments she can offer her young patients.

“Immunizations are one of the main reasons children around the world are surviving to adulthood. Besides clean water and good nutrition, it has been the most successful public health initiative here in the U.S.,” said Dr. Harris. “Just ask anyone above 70 years of age who had to live through the polio outbreaks, whooping cough and measles, mumps and rubella. Those who contracted polio as a child still suffer from post-polio syndrome (progressive weakness and sometimes pain in limbs that were affected by polio) and can only wish that the vaccine was available when they were children. Who would wish any of these illnesses on their own children? The vaccines are a godsend.”

As parents, we want to do everything we can to keep our children from getting sick. Agreeing to the seemingly never-ending round of vaccinations can seem overwhelming to some parents, and that is why vaccines are thoroughly monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Before the FDA approves a vaccine for use by the public, highly trained FDA scientists and doctors evaluate the results of studies on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. The FDA also inspects the sites where vaccines are made to make sure they follow strict manufacturing guidelines.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a group of medical and public health experts, then develops recommendations on how to use vaccines to control diseases and designs the vaccination schedule. The ACIP designs the vaccination schedule to protect young children before they are likely to be exposed to potentially serious diseases and when they are most vulnerable to serious infection.

“No parent wants to harm their child. I, as a pediatrician, do not want to harm any child either,” said Dr. Harris. “I would never give something that I would not give to my own child.”

Have you ever wondered how vaccines work? Vaccines reduce your child’s risk of infection by working with their body’s natural defenses to help them safely develop immunity to disease.

When germs, such as bacteria or viruses, invade the body, they attack and multiply. This invasion is called an infection, and the infection is what causes illness. The immune system then must fight the infection. Once it fights off the infection, the body has a supply of cells that help recognize and fight that disease in the future. These supplies of cells are called antibodies.

Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection, but this “imitation” infection does not cause illness. Instead it causes the immune system to develop the same response as it does to a real infection, so the body can recognize and fight the vaccine-preventable disease in the future.

If you have questions or concerns about vaccines, talk to your child’s doctor. You can also view a list of frequently asked questions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Here's a schedule of recommended vaccines for young children: 

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