By Laura M. Clapper, MD
Aetna reminds clinicians that August is National Immunization Month.
Childhood immunizations keep our children safe from a number of serious diseases. This is a good time of year to make sure your child is up-to-date on all of his/her immunizations. Continue reading to find out which vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend for children 6 and under.
In the United States, vaccines have eliminated or nearly eliminated many life-threatening diseases such as smallpox, polio and measles. By eliminating or decreasing the incidence of these and other diseases, immunizing children reduces hospitalizations and significantly decreases medical costs, including out-of-pocket expenses for families.
Recommended immunizations for children from birth through 6 years old:
Hepatitis B can lead to acute and chronic liver disease as well as liver cancer. Contrary to popular belief, hepatitis B is not only spread through sexual contact or drug use. Infants born to mothers with hepatitis B infection are at highest risk of contracting the virus. In addition, the disease can be spread through routine close contact with people living in the same household, and some studies suggest that normal child-to-child play can also spread infection. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended as a series of three doses for all children. The CDC recommends that the first dose be given to all newborns at birth. The second and third doses should be given at 1 to 2 months, and 6 to 18 months.
Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children. Approximately 55,000 children in the United States are hospitalized each year from the severe diarrhea and vomiting caused by rotavirus. The CDC recommends that children receive a set of three immunizations for rotavirus at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months.
The DTaP immunization helps protect children from three different types of harmful bacteria that can cause serious, potentially fatal diseases. These diseases include diphtheria, a contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system; tetanus (lockjaw); and pertussis (whooping cough). The vaccine is recommended as a five-dose series: three doses given to infants at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, followed by two additional booster doses at 15 to 18 months and at 4 to 6 years. Some regions in the United States are currently experiencing whooping cough outbreaks. Check with your doctor to see whether you are in a location with a higher risk of pertussis and schedule vaccinations for you and your children if your doctor says you are due.
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
Hib disease causes potentially deadly meningitis, an infection around the spinal cord that can cause lifelong disability or mental retardation. Hib disease can also cause pneumonia and epiglottis, an infection in the throat, which can be life-threatening as well. Because of widespread use of the vaccine since the early 1990s, Hib disease has been almost eliminated in the United States. Hib is recommended as a four-dose series: three doses given to infants at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, followed by a booster dose at 12 to 15 months.
Pneumococcal disease - Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV)
Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial infection that invades the lungs, causing one of the most common types of pneumonia. The bacteria can also cause serious infections in the blood (bacteremia) and coverings of the brain and spinal column (spinal meningitis), especially in young children. The CDC recommends that all children younger than 2 years of age receive the vaccine as a series of three doses given at 2, 4 and 6 months, and a fourth booster dose at 12 to 15 months.
Poliomyelitis - Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV)
Although polio has been eliminated in the United States thanks to widespread immunizations over the past 50 years, it still remains a serious threat in other parts of the world. International travelers can bring the disease into the United States, so it is still important to immunize all children. IPV is recommended as a four-dose series: three doses given to infants at 2, 4 and 6 to 18 months of age, followed by a fourth dose given at 4 to 6 years.
Influenza (flu) can be serious for both children and adults, and can lead to hospitalization or death. The influenza vaccine is recommended every flu season for all adults and children 6 months of age or older. If this is the first time for flu vaccine, a child 6 months through 8 years of age should receive two doses, separated by at least 4 weeks. If this child only receives one dose in the first season, he or she should receive two doses the next season, if still younger than 9 years. Ask your childs doctor if a second dose is needed.
The MMR vaccine has greatly reduced the number of cases of measles, mumps and rubella each year. Each of these diseases can have serious consequences. Measles can be life-threatening, and mumps can lead to brain infection (meningitis/encephalitis). In pregnant women, rubella can cause birth defects and mental retardation in unborn babies. MMR is recommended as a two-dose series: The first dose given to toddlers at 12 to 15 months, followed by the second dose at 4 to 6 years.
Although chickenpox often is thought of as an annoying but harmless childhood disease, in some cases it can have serious complications such as pneumonia, brain swelling or death. The chickenpox vaccine is recommended for all children. Adults who did not have the disease as a child should be tested to see if they have evidence of naturally acquired protection (immunity). If not, vaccination is recommended for them as well because chickenpox can be even more serious in adults than in children. It is recommended that toddlers receive the varicella vaccine when they are between 12 to 15 months old and then again when they are 4 to 6 years old.
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by a virus and can be deadly. The CDC recommends that children receive two doses of the vaccine between the ages of 12 and 23 months.
Also, remember young children arent the only ones who need these vaccinations. Check with your doctor to make sure you and the rest of your family are up-to-date on all of your vaccinations as well. Keeping the entire family immunized against these preventable illnesses is a simple step you can take to help keep everyone in your household healthy.
For more information and tips on vaccinations, visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/.
Laura M. Clapper, MD, is senior medical director for Aetnas West Region.