Thursday, February 11, 2016

Vaccines: Know the basics

Vaccines are responsible for saving thousands of children's lives throughout the past 100 years. Here are the basics on the different vaccines your child will be getting.

Vaccines: Know the basics

There are many different vaccines that children have to get throughout their adolescence.  As a parent, inform yourself and learn the basics of vaccines.  (AP Photo)
There are many different vaccines that children have to get throughout their adolescence. As a parent, inform yourself and learn the basics of vaccines. (AP Photo)

In 1912, diphtheria killed 1,812 of every 100,000 American children. Measles killed 700 of every 100,000. Meningitis killed 1,150 of every 100,000 kids. Fast-forward to last year, when zero American children died of diphtheria or measles in 2011 – and the mortality rate for meningitis was approximately 2 cases per million people. 

What caused this dramatic reduction? Vaccines.

So why is there a modern backlash against vaccines for babies, kids and teens? Two of the greatest impediments to successful vaccination of infants and children are misunderstandings and misinformation about side effects. (These will be the topic of my next blog post.)  First, parents should understand the simple, life-saving concept behind these important shots – and how three main classes of vaccines that they’ll encounter in their pediatrician’s or family doctor’s office work.

Vaccines make use of the body’s own immune response to protect against dangerous infections. When a person develops an infection (like measles), the body develops a specific protective response (immune response) to the virus or bacteria behind it. This immune response does two things. First, it resolves the infection. Second, it prevents future infections with the same invader.  Vaccines are designed to produce this lifesaving, protective effect WITHOUT the natural infection. 

In general, you’ll encounter three types of vaccines when you take your child to the doctor:

Component vaccines contain a protein or sugar from the target virus or bacteria that has been altered so it can’t produce illness — but can produce an immune response. Most vaccines in current use are component vaccines, including vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, Hemophilus influenzae type b (which can cause meningitis - a brain infection- in young children), Streptococcus pneumonia (the most common cause of ear infections, blood infections and meningitis in young children), and Neisseria meningitidis (the largest cause of bacterial meningitis in the U.S.)  Side effectsBecause these vaccines contain only a protein or modified sugar, side effects are limited mainly to local inflammation at the site of injection and occasionally fever. 

Inactivated vaccines contain the complete virus or bacteria which have been killed chemically or thermally. The most common versions of these vaccines are the inactivated polio vaccine given to young children and the annual influenza vaccine. Side effects: Mainly redness and swelling at the injection site and, once in a while, fever.

Live, attenuated vaccines contain living viruses that have been altered in such a way that they illicit a broad-based immune response (including a response at the surface of the lungs and the intestines), but do not produce disease. Vaccines against mumps, measles, rubella, chickenpox and rotavirus are all live attenuated vaccines. Side effects: Soreness, fever, and mild rash. Rotavirus vaccine may make babies irritable or cause mild diarrhea or vomiting.

Additional information regarding the recommended schedules, uses, legal requirements and side effects of these vaccines can be found at the CDC website ( and at

Have questions. Feel free to pose them, and I'll do my best to provide answers.

Stephen C. Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A., is the Waldo E. Nelson Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital and a professor at Temple University School of Medicine.

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About this blog
Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Emiliano Tatar, M.D. Pediatrician at Einstein Healthcare Network Roxborough Plaza
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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