A vaccine is a medication that trains the immune system to produce special proteins (antibodies) that fight a specific disease. A vaccine may be injected, taken orally, or taken as nasal drops. Most vaccines contain dead or weakened germs, germ fragments, or toxins that train the immune system to mount an attack in case of a potential infection. A few vaccines may be given as multiple shots to boost the immune response to a particular infection.
Most vaccination schedules followed worldwide are as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. Vaccinating a child as per the schedule helps in the development of optimum immunity at the required age. Though a minor delay in the vaccination is acceptable, skipping vaccines or delaying them significantly may put the child at the risk of serious diseases (e.g., whooping cough) and lifelong deformity (e.g., paralysis from polio).
- Every child older than 6 months and adults should get a flu vaccine every year.
- All children between the age of 11-12 years should get one booster shot of TDaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis or DTaP).
- All children between 11-12 years of age should get vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV) in two-shot series. A three-shot series is needed for those who start the series at 15 years or older.
- All children 11-12 years of age should get one shot of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY). A booster shot is recommended at the age of 16 years.
- Teens who are 16-18 years old may be vaccinated with a serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine. This vaccine is generally given to kids who have undergone spleen removal surgery.
Special points to note during vaccination:
- Mild fever, cough, or cold is not an indication to skip the vaccine.
- If the child skips a single vaccine dose, ask the pediatrician for a catch-up schedule. The entire vaccine schedule need not be repeated.
- The choice of vaccine site is generally the middle third of the thigh in a baby or shoulder in older kids.
- Make sure to retain the vaccine administration schedule and update it as it progresses.
Are vaccines safe?
Yes, most vaccines are safe in most individuals. Like every medication, vaccinations carry certain unavoidable risks. However, the benefits the child reaps from these vaccines outweigh all the risks. The largest controversy in the vaccine campaign is the (false) claim that vaccination may lead to a developmental disorder called autism in kids. It has been repeatedly established that there is no link whatsoever between vaccinations and autism.
There have been worries in the past about the preservatives used in certain vaccines, e.g., thiomersal. Thiomersal is a potential toxin to brain cells. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have asked the vaccine manufacturing companies to remove thiomersal from their vaccines. Current vaccines do not contain any thiomersal. Similarly, there is no established link between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism in multiple studies. The aluminum and formaldehyde used in the vaccine manufacturing process are in very minute quantities and can be easily flushed out by the body.
A few vaccines (HPV vaccine, TDaP) have been linked to the development of the Guillain Barre syndrome (a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves). Similarly, the nasal flu vaccines have been theoretically linked to the development of facial palsy. However, the evidence for both is insufficient. The decision to withhold or administer these vaccines must be taken on an individual basis after consulting with the doctor.
Table. Vaccines that may be withheld in specific conditions
Reason to withhold the said vaccine
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National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. 2021 Recommended Vaccinations for Children 7-18 Years Old. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/easy-to-read/adolescent-easyread-compliant.html
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