Just this month, we have been alerted to the grim news that serious outbreaks of
measles have been occurring across the country, impacting both children and
As recently as 2000, measles was regarded as a disease of the past, one that
was fortunately eliminated in the US.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) informs us that the new measles
epidemics are caused by an increase in children who have not been immunized
contracting this disease: http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html
Did you know that measles and other preventable diseases may cause
intellectual disabilities, along with other complications?
The Arc of the United States has a detailed fact sheet on this topic.
Please share with families, colleagues and members of your community.
If you need more information, please contact our Family to Family Health
Information Center at 866—931-1110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Facts About Childhood Immunizations
Why Are Immunizations Important for All Children?
Prior to widespread immunization in the United States, infectious diseases killed
or disabled thousands of children each year. The near elimination of intellectual
disabilities due to measles encephalitis, congenital rubella syndrome, and
Haemophilus influenzae type b meningitis or Hib can be contributed to vaccines
Because the vaccines are so effective in preventing childhood diseases, many
have forgotten how serious it is for children to get them. Today, viruses and
bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable disease and death still exist and can be
passed on to people who are not protected by vaccines. (Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, 2000a).
Which Childhood Diseases May Cause Intellectual Disability?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), brain
damage may occur when a child catches pertussis (whooping cough), measles,
mumps, Hib disease, or varicella (chicken pox). Rubella affects pregnant
women who have a 90 percent chance of having a baby with serious birth
defects and intellectual disabilities if they get the disease early in pregnancy
(CDC 2000a). The disease is usually mild in children.
Encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, is the cause of brain damage in
pertussis, measles and mumps. Pertussis is also a cause of death in one of
200 infants who are more seriously affected than older children. Measles
results in death in one of every 3,000 children who get it (CDC, 2000b).
Before the vaccine was introduced, Hib disease was the most common cause
of bacterial meningitis. One out of 20 children who got Hib meningitis died and
10-30 percent of survivors had permanent brain damage (CDC, 2000c).
Even varicella (chicken pox) may have complications that include bacterial
infection of the skin, swelling of the brain, and pneumonia. Before the vaccine
became available, there were 11,000 hospitalizations for chicken pox in the
United States, with up to 100 deaths (CDC, 2000a).
It is clear that many lives can be saved through vaccination. Not only are
children who are vaccinated protected; other children around them are
protected when most children are immunized. There are a small number of
children who cannot be vaccinated (because of severe allergies to vaccine
components, for example), and a small percentage who don’t respond to
vaccines. These children are susceptible to disease, and their only hope of
protection is that children around them are immune and cannot pass disease
along to them.
What Types of Vaccines Are Now Available?
HepB – Protects against hepatitis B (liver infection)
DTaP – Protects against diptheria (severe infection of the throat and
respiratory tract), tetanus (or “lockjaw,” a serious neurological disorder that
may occur from a contaminated wound) and pertussis (whooping cough)
Hib – Protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b (a bacteria that causes
meningitis, pneumonia and skin and throat infections)
PCV – Protects against pneumococcal disease
Polio – Protects against polio (a virus that attacks the spinal nerves, causing
MMR – Protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) (viral
infections characterized by rashes, fever, and potentially serious side effects
such as heart damage, pneumonia, infertility and birth defects when pregnant
women are infected)
Varicella – Protects against chickenpox (a viral skin disease)
RV – Protects against infections caused by rotavirus
Influenza – Protects against the flu
HepA – Protects against hepatitis A
What Is the Recommended Vaccination Schedule for Children?
Children need to receive almost all of their vaccinations in the first two years of
life. For some diseases, “booster” shots are needed between the ages of 4 and
6, and again between ages 11 and 12. Influenza (flu) vaccine is recommended
every winter for children 6 months of age and older. This is the current
recommended schedule (CDC, 2011):
Vaccines are usually given as a shot. They contain a weakened or killed form of
the disease-causing bacteria or virus to which the body builds defenses (called
antibodies). These antibodies help the body recognize and prevent the disease
from occurring if a person is exposed to the disease in the future. Having
antibodies to prevent disease is called immunity (JAMA, 1999).
What About the Safety of These Vaccines?
While vaccines are extremely safe and effective, none are 100 percent safe or
effective. Serious reactions to vaccines are extremely rare, but do occur.
However, the risks of serious disease from not vaccinating are far greater than
the risks of serious reaction to the vaccination (CDC, 2000c). One study
showed that children who were not immunized for measles were 35 times more
likely to get this disease than those children who were vaccinated (JAMA, 1999).
Vaccines can and often do cause minor reactions such as redness and swelling
at the site of the injection. Vaccines may cause fever and rash. And very rarely,
they can induce seizures, swelling of the brain, or severe allergic reactions. About
1 in 1 million children who get MMR develop encephalitis or severe allergic
reaction, and 0-10.5 in 1 million who got DTP developed acute encephalopathy
(CDC, 2000b). Today, DTaP vaccine has replaced DTP as a safer alternative.
How Can Parents Learn More About the Risks and Benefits of Vaccines?
Parents should be fully informed about the risks and benefits of vaccination by
talking to a trusted health care provider. By law, parents must receive written
materials about vaccine risks and benefits before a vaccine is administered (CDC,
2000e). CDC publishes easy to read “Vaccine Information Sheets” on each of the
vaccines. These are the ones health professionals give to families prior to
vaccination. They can be found on CDC’s web site at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/.
Each two-page fact sheet covers the reasons for the vaccination, who should get it
and when, who should not get the vaccine or wait, the risks from the vaccine, and
what to do if there is a reaction to the vaccine.
Information about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is also included (www.hrsa.gov/Vaccinecompensation/). This is a federal program created to help pay
for the care of those who have been harmed through vaccination. The CDC fact
sheets provide information on how to identify a vaccine reaction and advise a parent
on how to report a vaccine reaction. If needed for reporting, the health care provider
must maintain the date of administration, vaccine manufacturer, and lot number in
the patient’s permanent medical record.
Children should wait to get a vaccine if they have a moderate or severe illness,
moderate to severe diarrhea or vomiting or moderate to severe otitis media (ear
infection). Children can be vaccinated if they have a mild illness like a cold, earache,
mild fever or diarrhea. If they have had a moderate or serious reaction to a vaccine,
they should not get another dose.
Certain children should avoid specific vaccines or should wait to receive a particular
vaccine. Before receiving DTaP vaccine, the doctor should be told if a child has ever
had a seizure, has a parent, brother or sister who has had a seizure or has a brain
problem that is getting worse. Children should not get Hib vaccine if they are less
than 6 weeks of age. They should not get MMR if they have ever had a life-
threatening allergic reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin, and they should
check with their doctor about taking the vaccine for several other conditions related
to the immune system, cancer and a low platelet count. These are examples of
precautions contained in the vaccine information sheets that parents should note.
While serious reactions to vaccines are rare, parents should carefully review
precautions affecting their child with their health care provider.
Are Vaccines Safe? Can They Cause Autism?
In the vast majority of cases, vaccines are effective and cause no side effects or only
mild reactions such as fever or soreness at the injection site. Serious reactions to
vaccines are extremely rare, but do occur. However, the risks of serious disease from
not vaccinating are far greater than the risks of serious reaction to the vaccination.
Very rarely they can induce seizures, swelling of the brain, or severe allergic reactions.
Due to the substantial rise in the number of autism cases, some have believed that
vaccinations have played a role in the rise of autism in children.
However, this theory has been extensively tested in at least a dozen rigorous scientific
studies which have overwhelmingly failed to show any connection between vaccines
and autism. The Institute of Medicine, an independent, objective advisor to the nation
on health, reviewed these studies and found no plausible evidence that vaccines
cause autism (CDC, 2010). Deciding not to immunize a child puts that child and others
who come in contact with him or her at risk of contracting a disease that could be
dangerous or even deadly.
Alexander, D. (2000). Statement on Fiscal Year 2001 President’s Budget Request for
the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. February 16, 2000. [Availablehttp://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/dir_statement.htm]
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2000a). What Would Happen If
We Stopped Vaccinations? [http://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/dir_statement.htmhttp://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/dir_
CDC. (2000b). Six Common Misconceptions About Immunizations. [www.cdc.gov/nip/publications/6mishome.htm]
CDC. (2000c). Vaccine-Preventable Childhood Diseases. [www.cdc.gov/nip/diseases
CDC. (2000d). 10 Things You Need to Know About Immunizations. [www.cdc.gov/nip/publications/fs/gen/shouldknow.htm]
CDC. (2000e). An Overview of Vaccine Safety. [www.cdc.gov/nip/vacsafe/default.htm
CDC (2011). 2011 Recommended Immunization Schedule for Children from Birth
Through 6 Years Old. [www.cdc.gov/vaccines].
CDC (2010). Parent’s Guide to Childhood Immunizations. [Available at www.cdc.gov/
JAMA. (July 7, 1999). Immunize your child. Journal of the American Medical
Association. Vol. 282, No. 1, p. 102.
Special ThanksThe Arc thanks Rosemary G. Morris, Member, The Arc of the Capital
Area, Austin, Texas, and members of the Health Promotion and Disability Prevention
Committee, Deborah Cohen, NJ; Joan Arnold, WV; Maureen Babula, NJ; and Peter
Leibert, CA for their review and advice on this fact sheet.
RevisedMarch 1, 2011
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423