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Health & Exercise Forum

Vaccines and Children: What Every Parent Should Know, Part 1

Apr 8, 2019

Part 1 of 3

This column is a monthly feature of “Health & Exercise Forum” in association with the students and faculty of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Guest Author: Timothy D. Welby, MD – board certified pediatrician at Pediatrics of NEPA and associate professor of pediatrics at GCSOM.

Timothy Welby, M.D.

For centuries, millions of adults and children died around the world of illnesses that are now preventable with vaccinations. In fact, just a generation ago, most Americans knew a family who lost a child to measles or pertussis (whooping cough). Those of that era also knew someone who had been paralyzed for life by childhood polio. But, thanks to modern medicine and science, this is no longer a common occurrence or fear. For example, in 2000, measles was eliminated in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, since 2000, outbreaks of these preventable diseases have reoccurred. In 2014, almost 400 cases of measles were reported in an Amish community in Ohio. In 2015, almost 200 cases of measles were reported at an amusement park in California. Last year, 18 cases were reported in New York in the Orthodox Jewish Communities and this year the count rises again. What do all these outbreaks have in common? Unvaccinated children!

The purpose of this column over the next few weeks is to discuss the prevention of common childhood diseases using vaccinations and to review potential side effects, both real and imagined.

What is a Vaccine?

Vaccines are pharmaceutical products developed through a vigorous scientific research process over many years. These products are designed to “trick” a patient’s immune system into producing immunity against a particular serious illness, usually caused by a bacteria or virus. When a child becomes infected with an illness naturally, the child becomes sick and their immune system recognizes the bacteria or virus as a foreign invader and mounts a response comprised of antibodies and white blood cells in their bloodstream. These antibodies hopefully defeat the illness and the child recovers. In the process, the immune system remembers the particular invader and the next time the child is exposed it will resist it more effectively. A child’s immune system is particularly good at developing memory antibodies to fight infection compared to an adult, however, it cannot do so if it does not get an opportunity. Unfortunately, some of the infections are serious and deadly, especially to infants and children whose nervous systems, hearts and lungs may not be developed enough to survive the infection.  

A particular vaccine consists of multiple ingredients. The principle component is the actual “immunizing agent” which can be in one of three forms: a live attenuated (weakened) virus, a killed virus, a portion of a bacteria or virus or a group of proteins from an infecting microorganism. It is this immunizing agent that provokes the patient’s immune system to respond by fooling it to mount a protective response against the fake “foreign invader” without causing the actual illness. Therefore, when exposed, this allows the patient to either fight off the viral or bacterial infection entirely or partially without serious or deadly consequences. Often, vaccines also contain other products such as aluminum salts to improve the immune response to the immunizing agent, preservatives to prevent bacterial or fungal contaminations and stabilizers such as sugars (sucrose), amino acids (glycine), or proteins (gelatin), to ensure that the vaccine maintains its potency. Some patients can have an allergic reaction to these additional vaccine components.

Who Needs to be Vaccinated?

Infants and children are the most obvious people in need of protection from serious illness and death; however, many adults are also at risk. Older and sickly adults with poor immune systems are also at great risk for serious illness and death when exposed to many childhood illnesses that are preventable with vaccines. Children who are ill shed large amounts of the virus or bacteria that they are infected with in various ways; coughing, sneezing, vomiting, and other unpleasant means. Therefore, it is also important to understand that high childhood immunization rates help keep vulnerable children and adults healthy. High childhood immunization also protects vulnerable young children who cannot be immunized for valid reasons such as those resistant to vaccine effectiveness. For example, a child under one year of age who has partial immunization through their mother cannot get effectively vaccinated. Because the antibodies from their mother aren’t very effective, especially in young infants, they are at grave risk if the children around them are not immunized. Others at risk include children born with weak immune systems from birth and those taking strong medications like chemotherapy for cancer which weaken their system. These cases clearly illustrate how critical it is to attain the highest immunization standards possible because the greater the number of healthy children receiving immunization, the more we protect them, the children and adults close to them, and any other vulnerable people their communities.

Source: NEPA Vital Signs - The Journal of the Lackawanna County Medical Society

 Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” Next Week Read: Part 2 of 3 on Vaccinations.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.