Young children should undergo shots in addition to vaccines given at recommended intervals during childhood, according to a landmark health report released Monday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The recommendations for children ages 0 to 4, made in a public health report out Monday, come after years of intense research about immunization.
Medical studies have shown that the vaccine schedule – administered four or five times per year – can cause long-term changes in young immune systems that are hard to reverse. Vaccines also lead to lifelong immunity, but the leading cause of infectious disease deaths in children remains Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR). Health officials recommend routine vaccinations against these and other childhood diseases.
But while modern medical science has successfully prevented much of what once ravaged newborns and children, it still fails to prevent diseases that once killed people at rates comparable to polio, which has been almost eradicated in the U.S. today.
Though vaccines still prevent these diseases, they don’t stop new infections. Outbreaks, like the one that took place in California this summer, begin when infected people go to sites where people who haven’t gotten the vaccine are already present. Young children get the hardest hits – they’re more vulnerable to pneumonia, respiratory illnesses and death if they contract an illness.
The CDC report is issued with health experts and politicians arguing passionately about the effects of childhood vaccines on children’s health. Some scientists and researchers fear that some vaccines, and even more, can cause autism and other neurological issues. The emotional debate is fueling the debate about school choice, as some activists – including parents of young children with autism – want to opt their children out of mandatory vaccinations, though physicians say there is no proven link between childhood vaccines and autism.
Some health experts say that the new CDC report is no panacea. Some recommended vaccines should continue to be given at recommended intervals, especially vaccines for febrile illness, lung infections and infections in older children and adults. But there are places where shots aren’t covered by insurance, or the shots are cost prohibitive, including pregnant women, children whose families can’t afford them, and low-income children. Vaccines should also continue to be a part of the annual “flu shot” for the elderly, many health officials say.
Still, some parents said their children have seen an improved health-care system following childhood vaccination. Shannon Harrell, who is living in Washington, D.C., with her son Lyron, 5, said the vaccine was the only way he avoided pneumonia and meningitis when he was younger.
“For a certain age, your immune system is quite young, and it’s dependent on these vaccines to start to make an adult immune system in certain children,” she said.
“Children learn better when the shot is required,” she said. “And it really does put a huge weight off of the family.”