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Giving good health a shot

Roll up your sleeve
Roll up your sleeve

Doctors occasionally recommend shots for grown-ups, too, that protect against:

  • Flu and pneumonia. New guidelines recommend annual flu shots for everyone over 50, as well as high-risk individuals and pregnant women. You’ll need the pneumococcal vaccine once if you’re over age 65.
  • Tetanus. You say you received all your childhood booster shots? You still need a tetanus shot every 10 years to protect against this life-threatening disease. Employees who work around dirt, dust, manure or dirty water may be required to get tetanus shots even more frequently.
  • Allergies. Known as immunotherapy, this treatment works for 85 percent of patients with common environmental allergies. But the regimen requires dozens of shots for as long as six years to be completely effective.
  • Shingles. Anyone who’s had chickenpox in the past can develop this painful blistering rash, but the elderly are most vulnerable. Complications include blindness and chronic, debilitating pain. A one-time vaccination is now recommended for those ages 60 and older.

Seeing a healthy, happy baby suddenly shriek in pain from a vaccination makes every parent’s heart sink. Some even wonder if immunizations are necessary anymore. After all, when’s the last time any American had diphtheria? (There have been only five cases since 2000.)

But when we consider the alternatives, however remote—children possibly crippled by polio, made deaf by mumps or even killed by measles—we realize that a needle prick is a small price to pay for lifetime protection.

Early and often

Vaccines contain either a killed or extremely weak germ that causes a certain illness. Once injected or swallowed, the germ triggers baby’s immune system to make antibodies that recognize and attack the invader. Once that happens, the child is immunized against the disease itself.

By the time baby turns 2, he or she should have had up to 27 vaccinations against these 14 diseases:

  • hepatitis A and B, which attack the liver
  • diphtheria, a dangerous infection of the heart and nervous system
  • tetanus, or lockjaw, which paralyzes muscles
  • pertussis, or whooping cough
  • Hib, or Haemophilis influenza type b, which can cause meningitis
  • polio, which destroys nerves in the spine or brain stem
  • measles, or rubeola virus, which can cause swelling of the brain
  • mumps, which can cause sterility, swelling of the brain or deafness
  • rubella, or German measles, a virus that causes birth defects
  • chickenpox, which may cause complications ranging from shingles to birth defects
  • pneumococcal bacteria, which cause illnesses in infants ranging from inner-ear infections to bacterial meningitis
  • rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhea and fever in young children
  • influenza virus

Shots for everyone

Yet one-fifth of all 2-year-olds are missing at least one key inoculation. That’s a needless risk—and it highlights a growing concern that some parents think vaccinations are unsafe. Many myths surround immunization and childhood diseases, such as:

  • “We’ve wiped out all these diseases.” The only disease that’s considered gone from the face of the Earth is smallpox. All the others are still with us. True, the remaining diseases are rare here—yet overseas, they still kill and maim millions every year.
  • “Vaccines give children the disease.” Vaccines produced from dead germs cannot cause the disease they’re designed to stop. Vaccines from weakened germs, such as chickenpox, carry a statistically minuscule chance of giving a child the disease.
  • “Vaccines cause other diseases.” Among the most pervasive “links” that simply aren’t true: Hib vaccine causes diabetes; the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism; hepatitis B shots cause sudden infant death syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
  • “My child’s safe if all the other kids are immune.” This thinking actually caused a measles epidemic between 1989 and 1991 in which more than 120 children died and 7,000 were hospitalized.

Early and often

Shots for everyone