Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Health Care and Childhood Immunization

Childhood immunizations have been hugely successful over the past several decades in helping to reduce significantly the outbreak of many diseases including mumps, chicken pox, measles, and many more serious illnesses. Unfortunately, due to a growing lack of response by many new parents and families immigrating into the United States over the past several years, these diseases are now showing up again in more and more locations across the country. According to Newsweek.com, Hours after a baby is born, her parents are told it's best that she receive her first shot before she leaves the hospital. And that's just the beginning. By the child's sixth birthday, she'll have had at least 35 vaccinations—if she goes by government recommendations. Meanwhile, during those six years, her parents are likely to see hundreds of media reports and online message-board debates about which vaccines are necessary or even safe. It's confusing, to say the least.

When germs enter the body, the immune system recognizes them as foreign substances (antigens), according to FamilyDoctor.org. The immune system then produces the right antibodies to fight the antigens. Vaccines, or immunizations, contain antigens that cause diseases. However, the antigens in vaccines are weakened or killed. This means they cannot produce the signs or symptoms of the disease, but they do stimulate the immune system to create antibodies. These antibodies help protect you if you are exposed to the disease in the future. Vaccines not only help keep your child healthy, they help all children by stamping out serious childhood diseases. Vaccines are generally quite safe. The protection provided by vaccines far outweighs the very small risk of serious problems. Vaccines have made many serious childhood diseases rare today. Talk to your family doctor if you have any questions. Some vaccines may cause mild temporary side effects such as fever, or soreness or a lump under the skin where the shot was given. Your family doctor will talk to you about possible side effects with certain vaccines.

According to FamilyDoctor.org, in some special situations, children shouldn't be vaccinated. For example, some vaccines shouldn't be given to children who have certain types of cancer or certain diseases, or who are taking drugs that lower the body's ability to resist infection. If your child has had a serious reaction to the first shot in a series of shots, your family doctor will probably talk with you about the pros and cons of giving him or her the rest of the shots in the series. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about whether your child should receive a vaccine. Much more detailed information about the types of immunizations available and what diseases are preventable is found at this site: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/vaccines/028.html.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children in the United States today routinely get vaccines that protect them from more than a dozen diseases such as measles, polio and tetanus. Most of these diseases are now at their lowest levels in history, thanks to years of immunization. Children must get at least some vaccines before they may attend school. Vaccines help make you immune to serious diseases without getting sick first. Without a vaccine, you must actually get a disease in order to become immune to the germ that causes it. Vaccines work best when they are given at certain ages. For example, children don't receive measles vaccine until they are at least one year old. If it is given earlier it might not work as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes a schedule for childhood vaccines. And, although some of the vaccines you receive as a child provide protection for many years, adults need immunizations, too. This website provides helpful tips and schedules for immunization for children, teens, and adults: http://healthfinder.gov/prevention/PrintTopic.aspx?topicId=59 .

However, even with all the pediatric specialists, medical information, and public data disseminated nationwide there are many parents who do not have their children immunized. This is dangerous, and the reasons for not having vaccinations often stem from incorrect information or misunderstanding the facts. According to MayoClinic.org, here are the Top 5 Myths about childhood immunizations or vaccines:
1.) Myth: Vaccines aren't necessary.
Fact: Childhood vaccines offer protection from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases, including diphtheria, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus and whooping cough. If these diseases seem uncommon — or even unheard of — it simply means that vaccines are doing their job. If immunization rates drop, vaccine-preventable diseases may once again become common threats.

2.) Myth: Vaccine side effects are dangerous.
Fact: Any vaccine can cause side effects. Usually, these side effects are minor — low-grade fever, and soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. Some vaccines cause temporary headache, dizziness, fatigue or loss of appetite. Rarely, a child may experience a severe allergic reaction or a neurological side effect, such as a seizure. Although these rare side effects are a concern, vaccines are much safer than the diseases they prevent. Of course, vaccines aren't given to children who have known allergies to specific vaccine components. Likewise, if your child develops a life-threatening reaction to a particular vaccine, further doses of that vaccine won't be given.

3.) Myth: Vaccines cause autism.
Fact: Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven't found a clear connection between autism and childhood vaccines. Although signs of autism may appear at about the same time children receive certain vaccines — such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine — this appears to be simply a coincidence.

4.) Myth: Vaccines are given too early.
Fact: Childhood vaccines offer protection from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases. Early vaccination — sometimes beginning shortly after birth — is essential because these diseases are most likely to occur when a child is very young and the risk of complications is greatest. If you postpone vaccines until a child is older, it may be too late.

5.) Myth: It's OK to skip certain vaccines if you have safety concerns.
Fact: In general, skipping vaccines isn't a good idea. This can leave your child vulnerable to potentially serious diseases that could otherwise be avoided. And consider this: For some children — including those who can't receive certain vaccines for medical reasons or those who don't seem to respond to certain vaccines — the only protection from vaccine-preventable diseases is the immunity of the people around them. If you have reservations about particular vaccines, discuss your concerns with your child's doctor. If your child falls behind the standard vaccines schedule, catch-up vaccinations are typically available. It usually isn't necessary to repeat earlier doses of a particular vaccine.

According to Newsweek.com, although some diseases like polio and diphtheria aren't often seen in America (in large part because of the success of the vaccination efforts), they can be quite common in other parts of the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the United States, and if Americans were not protected by vaccinations, these diseases could quickly spread throughout the population. At the same time, the relatively few cases currently in the U.S. could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases without the protection we get from vaccines. Plus, these diseases haven't disappeared, they are merely smoldering under the surface. Parents who opt out or stagger the vaccine schedule can end up having to deal with confusing follow-up care, which could produce an increase in disease outbreaks.

Children's immune systems are capable of combating far more antigens (weak or killed viruses) than they encounter via immunizations. In fact, the jury is still out on if there's an actual limit on how many the body can handle—though one study puts the number around a theoretical 10,000 vaccines in one day. Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics' site or the Network for Immunization Information for more information. Many doctors support following the recommended schedule for vaccinations, which outlines getting as many as five shots in one day at a couple check-ups. The CDC reports that most vaccine adverse events are minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever and "so few deaths can plausibly be attributed to vaccines that it is hard to assess the risk statistically." If you have concerns about following the recommended immunizations, schedule a visit with your doctor or medical clinic, and don't wait until a check-up. Set up a consultation appointment with your pediatrician, or even outline a strategy for care with your doctor during your pregnancy if you are an expectant mother.

Immunizations against chickenpox and the flu are highly recommended. According to Newsweek.com, pediatricians say severe complications are possible with chickenpox—including bacterial infections that could result in a child's hospitalization or death. Now that there's a vaccine for chickenpox, more than 45 states require the shots (unless your child already had the chicken pox or can prove natural immunity). Two shots usually guarantees your child a way out of being bedecked in calamine lotion for two feverish weeks, but some individuals do still come down with a milder form of the pox. Most pediatricians recommend getting the shot. The flu shot does not contain a live virus, so your child can't get the flu from this shot. But, after the shot, it's not uncommon to feel a bit achy while the immune system mounts its response. Remember that for two weeks following the shot, your child can still get the flu, so be sure to help your child avoid that feverish kid next door.

Immunization is a subject that evokes very strong opinions and usually stirs up heated debate as to their efficacy, safety, and reliability. The main questions parents have to answer, according to NaturoDoc.com, are whether to immunize or not, and if so, when and with which ones. It is vital that doctors educate their patients as to the pros and cons, indications and contraindications, and risks and benefits of vaccinations in order that the parents can then make an informed choice for their children. By providing a balanced view of the evidence on immunization, physicians and other health care providers can help people make intelligent decisions regarding their health care, and the health care of their dependents.

According to NaturoDoc.com, the basic idea behind immunization is to produce a state of immunity to these childhood infectious diseases through the deliberate, artificial stimulation of the body's defenses against each disease. Ideally, this is done without causing any symptoms or signs of illness. In reality, no immunizing biological agent is completely safe, and it may produce side effects. It is important to assess each individual child and each individual vaccine, and then allow the parent to decide what to do after weighing all the facts and sorting out the fiction.

Considering the health care risks of not immunizing children, teens, and adults for not only individual medical safety, but also for the public welfare of society in general, getting your kids vaccinated against terrible diseases is the best course of action. If you don't have insurance that covers pediatric care and vaccinations, then consider free government clinics (if you qualify for aid), retail health clinics such as those located in Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, and other locations, or purchasing a medical discount plan that provides savings on this health care expense. Companies like Careington (www.careington.com) provide access through medical networks affiliated with PHCS and others that provide immediate savings and unlimited usage with participating doctors nationwide. Once a member of the plan, you could reasonably expect savings of 20% to 40% by visiting pediatricians that honor the discounted fees. Although you won't have a small co-pay often seen in some insurance plans, the savings are very good after the bill has been re-priced to the discounted rate. Since children need to be immunized, it makes sense to do it in a timely, cost effective way to protect them, and other family members and friends, against diseases that are very contagious and cause extremely severe health care issues.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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