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Should my child be vaccinated?

DEAR DR.PAUL: We just had a baby and we are confused about vaccinations. A lot of our friends are saying all these bad things about vaccinations..about side effects and that they are not natural. What do you think about vaccinations? Should we vaccinate our baby?

PEDIATRICIAN DR.PAUL Answers: Immunization is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your baby's current and future health. Since immunization was first invented, it has saved hundreds of thousands of children's lives. When I first started practicing pediatrics, for example, before the vaccine for Hemophilus Influenzae was available I saw the horrible effects of meningitis on children: Something we see much less of today thanks to the new H Influenzae vaccination .

Children are born with a degree of natural, inherited immunity which they acquired in the womb from their mothers' blood. That immunity is reinforced during breastfeeding, as breastmilk is rich in antibodies especially in the first few days after birth. But this type of passive, inherited immunity is only temporary - it wears off during a child's first year of life. This leaves the child vulnerable to a host of serious diseases. But with the help of vaccinations, children can develop protective immunity against these diseases. Vaccines have proven extremely effective in controlling and even eradicating some major childhood diseases. Indeed, smallpox - a severe and often fatal disease which used to be common among children - has been entirely wiped out by worldwide immunization. Vaccines are currently available to protect against the following serious illnesses: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Hepatitis, Pertussis (whooping cough), Polio, Measles, Rubella (German measles), Mumps, Hemophilus influenza b and Chicken pox.

Vaccines are oral or injected preparations made up of dead or weakened disease organisms (bacteria or viruses). When viruses or bacteria enter a person's system, the body fights infection by producing antibodies which attack and kill the organisms. In a similar fashion, vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies, but without causing the serious symptoms which occur during infection with living disease organisms, the real virus or bacterium. The result is that the body develops immunity to that particular disease, and is protected for several months or for a lifetime, depending on the vaccine. Some vaccines induce prolonged or even lifelong immunity to certain diseases, and can be given just once. But others, such as Pertussis, Diphtheria, and Tetanus only induce a temporary immunity. These vaccines require repeat injections (called boosters) in order to maintain protection against such diseases.

Generally, vaccines are safe and very effective. In my mind, the benefits of immunization far outweigh any risks. The bottom line is that I believe that vaccines are safe and necessary - my children are fully vaccinated.

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