At Mary’s Center, we love children, and we want to see them happy and healthy. Vaccines play an important part in child health. In commemoration of National Immunization Awareness Month in August, one of our pediatricians, Dr. Christian Cornejo, answers some common questions about vaccinations.
Q: Why is it important for parents to vaccinate their children?
A: Vaccines are the single most important way parents can protect their children from serious diseases. Only a few decades ago, many childhood diseases, which can now be prevented by vaccines, often resulted in hospitalization, lifelong debilitation or death. Without immunizations, serious outbreaks of many of the diseases we are now protected from can re-emerge.
Q: What are the most important vaccinations to get and when should my child receive them?
A: At Mary’s Center, we follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) scheduling recommendations. These schedules indicate the recommended ages for routine administration of the currently licensed childhood vaccines. This schedule has been approved by many organizations, such as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
During the first 2 years of life, our patients get immunized every 2 to 3 months. After 2 years of age, children don’t require additional routine vaccines until they are 4 years old, and then, again, when they turn 11. Additionally, we highly recommend the influenza vaccine, and this is done once a year starting at 6 months of age.
Q: Where can my child be vaccinated? Does it cost money?
A: We encourage our patients to receive their vaccines in our clinics. The majority of routine pediatric vaccines are covered by health insurance or by the Vaccine for Children (VFC) program. The VFC program is a federally-funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated due to inability to pay. Vaccines can also be received at the local health department, and recently, some pharmacies have started offering routine vaccines. We feel it is best for our patients to receive their vaccines in our clinics with their provider because this allows us to keep track of their vaccinations and know what vaccines are still needed.
Q: What happens if my child isn’t vaccinated? What are some of the diseases children can get and how can those diseases affect children’s development in the future?
A: An unvaccinated child is at higher risk of developing diseases that once maimed or killed thousands of children in the past. One example of the great impact vaccines have had is the elimination of polio in the United States. Polio was once America’s most feared disease, causing death and paralysis across the country. But today, thanks to vaccination, no cases of polio have originated in the United States since the 1970s.
Many of us, including our patients, their families and our staff, have witnessed how debilitating and devastating it is to suffer from polio. I, myself, remember seeing kids and adults using crutches or dragging their non-functional limbs on the streets of Lima, Peru. These images are difficult to forget. It is heart-breaking to know their trauma could have been prevented with a simple vaccine.
Q: I’ve heard that parents aren’t getting their kids vaccinated because of rumors that vaccinations might be linked to autism. How do you feel about those claims?
A: Claims that vaccines are linked to autism or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. It is dangerous to public health to suggest otherwise. Vaccines are one of the safest, most effective and most important medical innovations of our time. Our providers partner with parents to provide what is best for their child — to be fully immunized.
Q: What other reasons do parents give you for not wanting to get their children vaccinated?
A: Some parents are concerned about the pain vaccines can cause. It is a fact that vaccines may cause some discomfort, redness, or tenderness at the site of injection. This temporary discomfort is minimal compared to the pain and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent.
Q: Is there anything else parents should know about vaccines?
A: It is important to remember that some types of international travel, especially to developing countries and rural areas, carry a higher risk of being exposed to various diseases, such as typhoid and yellow fever. There are vaccines that can help protect travellers to such places against these serious diseases. For this reason, we encourage our patients to let us know when and to where they are planning to travel, so we can guide them on which vaccines are recommended and where they might receive them. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Dr. Christian Cornejo is a board certified pediatrician. He is also the Senior Administrative Medical Director at our location in Adelphi, Prince George’s County, MD. Dr. Cornejo attended medical school at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia and completed his residency at the University of Tennessee, College of Medicine in Chattanooga. He has been a member of the Mary’s Center team since November 2009 and speaks English and Spanish. Dr. Cornejo enjoys mountain biking, painting and traveling with his wife.