The ABCs of Immunizations

AUGUST 1, 2016

August is here, which means while there are a few more weeks of summer to enjoy, it’s also time to start thinking about the new school year. That means school supplies, new clothes, haircuts and making sure vaccinations are up to date.

Texas law requires that school children (in public, charter and private schools) be up to date on a number of vaccines. In addition to these mandatory immunizations, there are a few more that are strongly recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and medical professionals, including Texas Health Care physicians.

In addition to ensuring your children’s vaccines are up to date this month, it’s a good opportunity for adults to assess their own immunization history and get caught up on their own vaccines if needed.

“Vaccines help build up our body’s immunity to disease,” explains Dr. Lynne Tilkin, a primary care physician. “Because some vaccines are so effective and have been near-universally administered, we have eradicated some terrible diseases, such as smallpox, and virtually eliminated others, such as polio. It’s easy to take that for granted today, but before the 1950’s, polio was a parent’s worst nightmare because there was nothing you could do if your child contracted it.”

As any parent knows, children begin receiving immunizations shortly after birth and continue throughout childhood. However, immunizations are not just for babies and young children. People of all ages need periodic immunizations to protect against various diseases. Here is a look at the most commonly administered immunizations, the diseases they help prevent and standard guidelines on who should get them and how often.

Please note that these are standard guidelines developed and issued by the CDC, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you have an underlying health condition, your physician may recommend forgoing a vaccine or receiving additional vaccines. It is very important to consult with your physician on immunizations.

Printable, color-coded charts showing recommended vaccinations by age can be found on the CDC’s website:

Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTaP)

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis are serious diseases caused by bacteria. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the throat and can lead to cardiovascular and breathing problems, paralysis and death. Tetanus, commonly called “lockjaw,” causes tightening of muscles throughout the body. In the event the jaw locks, a person may be unable to swallow. Pertussis is commonly referred to as whooping cough. This disease causes intense coughing fits for infants and young children, leaving them unable to eat or drink.

Whooping cough has been in the news periodically over the last few years, as there have been isolated cases of people (mainly children) contracting whooping cough. This has occurred as some parents are opting their children out of vaccinations, citing various objections.

“Whooping cough underscores why vaccines are so important,” says Dr. William Maxwell, Jr., an Obstetrician and Gynecologist. “Pertussis was virtually eliminated just a few years ago, but now we are seeing it re-emerge as some people forgo vaccines. And it should not be mistaken for simply a bad cough; it’s a terrible – and sometimes deadly – illness and when children are not vaccinated, they are defenseless against it.”

People at any age are vulnerable to a tetanus infection, which is why it is necessary to get a booster shot every ten years. Additionally, due to the high risk of pertussis infection to infants, pregnant women and adults who will be around infants should have their Tdap vaccine current.

Who Needs It:

  • Children at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, 4-6 years, 11-12 years
  • Adults should get a Td booster (tetanus and diphtheria) every 10 years
  • Pregnant women should get a Tdap each time they are pregnant, between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy.
  • Adults who will be around infants under 1 year of age should be up to date on their Tdap.

Polio (IPV)

Polio is an infectious disease that can cause paralysis and sometimes death in those who contract it. In the first half of the 20th century, polio was widespread in the United States, and parents were terrified that their children could contract it in a public pool or park.

The world changed in 1955 when Dr. Jonas Salk announced he had developed a proven and safe vaccine that would protect people from polio. Through an effective immunization program, polio was eradicated in the United States; the last occurrence of polio in this country was in 1979. However, polio still occurs in the planet’s population, and numerous cases are reported in less developed nations, primarily in Africa and Southeast Asia. Until the disease is completely eradicated, as smallpox was, immunizations are still absolutely necessary.

Who Needs It:

  • Children at 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months and 4-6 years

Hepatitis A/Hepatitis B (HepA/HepB)

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are viruses that attack the liver. Hepatitis A generally spreads through accidental ingestion of microscopic amounts of fecal matter. Hepatitis B is spread through the blood and other bodily fluids.

Who Needs It:

  • HepB: Children at birth, 1-2 months, 6-18 months
  • HepA: Children at 12-18 months

Hib Disease (Hib)

Hib disease is a bacterial disease that can lead to meningitis, pneumonia and death. Before the Hib vaccine, Hib disease was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis infections in children under the age of five.

Who Needs It:

  • Children at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12-15 months

Chickenpox (Varicella)

First cleared for use in the United States in 1995, the chickenpox vaccine is relatively new. Chickenpox used to be very common, usually affecting children ages ten and younger. Before the vaccine, up to four million people contracted the disease each year in the United States. Chickenpox is highly contagious and causes a severe rash, fever, and fatigue. The virus that causes chickenpox can also cause shingles in adults.

Who Needs It:

  • Children at 12-15 months
  • Anyone who has never had the vaccine or the chickenpox

Meningococcal Disease (MenACWY or MPSV4 and MenB)

There are several different forms of meningococcal disease, some of which can be prevented through vaccinations. In general, this illness attacks the central nervous system by infecting membranes on the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis can commonly be transmitted among teenagers and college students through sharing drinks, kissing and living in close quarters, such as a dorm. Meningitis is a highly contagious, dangerous illness that can cause death. Vaccinations remain the best way to prevent contracting it.

Who Needs It:

  • MenACWY/MPSV4: Children at 16 years of age
  • MenB: Children 16-18 who wish to receive the vaccine, after consultation with a physician

Flu (Influenza)

An annual flu vaccine is important for children ages six months and older and adults. The flu causes serious symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, extreme fatigue, and headache. Young children and older adults are especially susceptible to complications, such as pneumonia and even death.

NOTE: Flu vaccines are generally available beginning in September each year.

Who Needs It:

  • Everyone six months or older, once a year. Flu season begins in October and runs through May. It is especially important that anyone who is younger than five or older than 65, pregnant or living in a nursing home or long-term facility get the vaccine.

Pneumonia (Pneumococcal)

The very young and older people are especially vulnerable to pneumonia. Every year in the United States, about one million people seek treatment in a hospital for pneumonia and 50,000 die from the disease.

Who Needs It:

  • Children under age 5
  • Adults 65 and older

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual contact. The CDC reports that at least half of the sexually active population has HPV, and many who have it will never realize it.

In most cases, HPV will prove to be harmless, but in some instances, it can alter cells in the cervix and cause cancer. Parents should ask their child’s doctor about the HPV vaccine, as it can protect the child from HPV later in life. The HPV vaccine dramatically reduces a girl’s odds of ever developing cervical cancer, as well as vaginal and vulvar cancers.

Who Needs It:

  • Vaccines are recommended for boys and girls aged 11 – 12. However, girls and young women ages 13 through 26 can also receive the vaccines if they did not get a full course when they were younger, according to the CDC. Young men can receive the vaccine through age 21.


Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you have had the chickenpox – or the chickenpox vaccine – you are at risk for shingles.

Who Needs It:

  • Adults age 60 and older, if they have had chickenpox or the vaccine.

The Dangers of Vaccine Myths

In recent years, various urban legends and internet rumors have cropped up around the subject of vaccines. A widely-circulated myth, one that has been completely discredited by the medical and scientific community, is that vaccines can increase the likelihood of autism in children.

“These types of rumors and crazy myths are completely false – and they are dangerous,” says Dr. Maxwell. “Vaccines save lives, period. Any small risk associated with a child being vaccinated is far outweighed by the considerable risk that an unvaccinated child will contract a serious and potentially deadly disease, such as pertussis or measles.”

Although the number of Texas parents seeking an exemption for their child is relatively small – less than one percent – it is increasing. And as the number of parents opting out of vaccines has crept up, so has the incidence of measles and pertussis outbreaks. In 2014, there were 667 confirmed measles cases in the U.S., the highest number since 2000, the year in which the disease was declared to have been eradicated.

“That’s why vaccines matter so much – if enough people stop getting immunized, we’ll be back to where we started with these serious diseases threatening people’s health and lives,” says Dr. Tilkin. “If you have questions about a vaccine, please do speak with your doctor – he or she will answer your questions. Just please don’t believe the myths that are out there.”

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Texas Tribune

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