Children's Vaccines 101
Vaccinations are some of the most important tools available for preventing disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not only do they protect individuals from developing a potentially serious disease, but they also protect the community by reducing the spread of infectious disease.
How Do Vaccines Work?
Vaccination provides you with immunity to a disease before it has the opportunity to make you sick. In order to do this, vaccines are created from the very same germs that cause the disease they are preventing. But the germs in the vaccines have either been killed or weakened before injection.
When the vaccines are introduced into your body, your immune system reacts to the vaccine in the same way that it would if it were being attacked by the disease itself: it produces antibodies. The antibodies then destroy the vaccine germs as they would the disease germs and remain in your body, creating immunity to that particular disease. If you are then exposed to that particular disease, the antibodies will protect you from it.
Immunizations are especially helpful for children, whose immune systems are more vulnerable and susceptible to disease. With immunizations, your child becomes protected from many infections and illness without having to suffer through them. Community awareness campaigns such as Every Child by Two urges parents to make sure their children are protected against some of the diseases of childhood before 2 years of age.
In order to keep your child disease-free and healthy, here are some recommended vaccinations, starting from infancy and continuing into adolescence:
- The hepatitis B vaccine (HBV) usually creates long-term immunity. Infants who receive the HBV series should be protected from hepatitis B infection into their adult years.
- The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is given as a series of four injections starting at 2 months of age and following at 4 months, 6 months, and 12 to 15 months to prevent pneumococcal infections, one of the leading causes of pneumonia, ear infections, and meningitis.
- The diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) is given as a series of five injections and is usually administered at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and at 4 to 6 years old.
- The meningitis vaccine (Hib) is given by injection at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months. Those immunized have protection against meningitis, pneumonia, pericarditis, and infections of the blood, bones, and joints caused by the bacteria.
- The polio vaccine (IPV) is usually given at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years before entering school. This protects against polio in over 95 percent of children immunized.
- The influenza vaccine is recommended for children 6 to 59 months old, as well as any child or adult with a weakened immune system or chronic medical condition. This vaccine reduces one's chances of catching the flu by up to 80 percent during the season.
- The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). MMR vaccinations are given by injection in two doses: first dose at 12 to 15 months; the second prior to school entry at age 4 to 6.
- The chickenpox vaccine (varicella) is given between the ages of 12 and 15 months, followed by a booster shot at ages 4 to 6.
- The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for children 12-23 months old, followed by a second dose 6 months later.
- The bacterial meningitis vaccine (MCV4) is recommended for kids at age 11 or 12 years. It protects against meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial infection, which can lead to bacterial meningitis.
Are Vaccines Expensive?
Vaccines don't have to be expensive. At a public health clinic (as in a state or local clinic), your child's vaccinations will be free, although you may have to pay a small amount to the nurse for administering the shots. If you go to a private physician, your health insurance might cover the vaccines, or a program called "Vaccines for Children" (VFC) might cover the cost of your shots if you are a Medicaid enrollee, uninsured, or are an American Indian or Alaska Native (visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/default.htm for more information on VFC guidelines). Or you can call the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
Health Insurance for Children
If you can't afford health insurance for your children, you do have options. One choice is Medicaid, which is for low-income adults and children (the rules about who qualifies for Medicaid varies from state to state.) There's also another program designed specifically to insure kids--even if their families don't qualify for Medicaid. The program is called the State's Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and provides free or low-cost health insurance to kids under 18 who don't have any insurance. Each state comes up with its own rules, but in general, a family of four who earns less than $34,000 a year will qualify. To find out more, call 877-KIDS-NOW (877-543-7669) or visit this web site: http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/states.asp.
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