August is National Immunization Awareness Month. We’ve asked pediatrician Dr. Oyebukola Grant, of Jai Medical Center in Baltimore — named a 2013 CDC Childhood Immunization Champion by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — to answer some frequently asked questions about vaccines.
Why is it so important to vaccinate babies and young children?
The most important reason is because it’s one of the main ways we have of preventing illnesses and disease. All the diseases we’re immunizing against still exist, including measles, whooping cough, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B. Children’s immune systems are not mature yet. Vaccinating helps to protect them while their immune systems are not yet strong enough to handle things.
Under the current schedule, children may receive as many as 24 immunizations by age 2.
Why do they need so many shots?
It’s an imperfect system. This is why research is so important. Right now this is the best way we have to make sure people’s immune systems are responding to the vaccines. For children, for example, we give a vaccination against whooping cough at 2 months. Research has found that immunity can wane over time, so you get boosters until we believe your immune system has fully responded.
What do you say to parents who are concerned about vaccine risks, such as a possible link to autism?
I have a lot of patients who voice concerns about the possibility of their child being injured by vaccines. I am honest with them. I tell them, yes, it can happen; however, it’s extremely rare. A lot of the autism concerns have been debunked. … I understand there are still going to be people who have concerns. Who wants to do something that may harm their child? But I wish people would make sure they’re making the best decision. In my opinion, the risk of injury is not as great as the risk of being exposed to the disease.
Where should parents go for more information?
I like the American Academy of Pediatrics website, HealthyChildren.org. I also like the CDC, cdc.gov/vaccines/default.htm. A lot of the information physicians use comes from there.