Why are vaccines important for kids?

The success of vaccines relies on individuals getting and keeping up with recommended shots.
Child with a nurse
Photo: iStock

The availability of vaccines has freed Americans from the fear of many diseases that once routinely caused suffering and mortality. But the success of vaccines relies on individuals getting and keeping up with recommended shots. With camp and sports programs gearing up for the summer, participants will need to show that they are current with immunizations. Max Goldstein, MD, a UCLA Health family medicine physician in Marina Del Rey, reviews the vaccine schedule and discusses the value of vaccines. 

Why are vaccines essential? 

“Vaccines prevent disease. They provide protection before exposure by priming the immune system to fight pathogens,” says Dr. Goldstein. “Vaccines not only protect the recipient from harmful preventable diseases, but they also protect the health of the community. When there is herd immunity, it protects others who are more vulnerable and at higher risk, such as those who are elderly, immunocompromised, receiving chemotherapy or very young. We don’t see diseases like polio or severe meningitis thanks to vaccines and herd immunity.” 

What vaccines do babies, children and adolescents require? 

Dr. Goldstein says that vaccines are timed and grouped to correspond to the ages when people are most susceptible to these diseases. He notes that children must be fully immunized to attend public schools. During the first year of life, babies need multiple doses of vaccines for hepatitis B, rotavirus, DTaP (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus), polio, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) and pneumococcal disease. When they reach six months of age, babies can receive COVID and seasonal flu vaccines. MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and varicella (chicken pox) vaccines are recommended at one year of age and a hepatitis A vaccine by the time toddlers reach age 2. Children need additional doses of DTaP, polio, MMR and varicella vaccines between ages 4 and 6. Around age 11 to 12, adolescents should receive the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), meningitis A and HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines. Annual flu and COVID vaccines are also recommended for children and adolescents. 

What are potential side effects, and is it safe to administer multiple vaccines at once? 

“The long-term effects of vaccines are immunity to different bacteria and viruses that can cause life-threatening illness,” says Dr. Goldstein. Short-term side effects may include low fever, aching and fatigue, which generally subside within 24 hours. Regarding giving multiple vaccines at one visit, he says vaccines have been tested and clinically proven to be safe. Each one involves a small and different type of immune system activation, so they don’t overwhelm the immune system. There are also some combination vaccines, such as MMR-Varicella and DTaP-polio, which can lessen the number of injections. Dr. Goldstein says parents should always feel comfortable sharing questions and concerns with their child’s pediatrician, who will be able to address specific causes of apprehension. 

Are there cases where a child should not be vaccinated? 

Children who are immunocompromised should not receive a live vaccine. Those who are allergic to a component of a vaccine or had an allergic reaction to a previous dose should not receive that vaccine. 

Any final thoughts? 

“I have a lot of families from other countries with different vaccine schedules or who travel internationally,” says Dr. Goldstein. “We can modify the vaccine schedule so children are current with vaccines recommended by or for those countries. Families who plan to go abroad should speak with their physician before traveling.”