Vaccination has become a routine topic of incredible importance. News outlets, medical providers, politicians, and scientists are sharing information about how we can safely and quickly use vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 so we can return to work, school, and our new normal in the era of COVID-19.
One of the blessings of this pandemic has been an education about vaccines for the general population. We’ve had a very public crash course in immunization and have learned how scientists have leveraged technology to create mRNA vaccines and how these vaccines differ from the more routine pediatric shots.
At a time when we are all working toward improving outcomes in our current pandemic, it seems helpful to take a step back and revisit how young parents – some of whom may not have received routine vaccines in many years themselves – might understand the current recommendations for vaccinating their babies against preventable childhood illnesses and work with their pediatrician to keep their child on track.
By the one-year check-up, infants on the recommended Center for Disease Control schedule will have received at least one of each of their baby shots. These vaccines protect them against fourteen historic infant and childhood illnesses that are only kept at bay due to ongoing immunization efforts (measles, whooping cough, and a common cause of diarrhea, to name a few). Your baby’s first shot is recommended before leaving the hospital nursery, but vaccination is a part of most regular appointments through the first eighteen months.
Here’s what I recommend to ensure your baby is on the right path to avoiding preventable infections:
Ask Questions Early
Though parents are often reluctant to ask questions about vaccinations, pediatricians want to have conversations with you about your concerns, especially when that helps us understand your parenting goals. Bringing up these concerns at the start of an appointment allows us to understand and prioritize our time with you. The one-month visit is an ideal time to discuss vaccinations as parents are settling into caring for their infants and have more confidence (and rest!) to share their questions. Having this conversation early in your baby’s life helps everyone feel confident and relaxed when multiple vaccines are recommended at the two-, four-, and six-month visits.
Use Reputable Resources for Research
Pediatricians welcome educated and empowered parents. Most organizations we rely on for guidance about vaccines, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control, have wonderful resources for parents. Focus your efforts and your energy on learning from evidence-based, science-driven organizations.
Understand Side Effects and How You Can Comfort Your Baby
As we’ve learned from stories about COVID-19 vaccination, vaccines do have side effects. Our immune system is powerful, and vaccination triggers your baby’s immune system to get to work and form antibodies so a defense is in place if and when infection is encountered in their community. Fortunately, after routine vaccination most babies have mild problems, if any, such as pain, fever, or swelling at the site of injection. These can be expected, and parents can comfort their baby if they need to with a cool compress and an appropriate dose of acetaminophen (or ibuprofen after six months of age). Any serious side effects should always be addressed with your pediatrician. It is rare for a side effect to be serious enough that a medical evaluation is required.
Vaccine records are required for licensed daycare, preschool, and elementary school entrance forms, organized sports participation, and some summer camps. Immunizations received in infancy even follow children to college and to careers as health professionals.
Having an up-to-date record can save you time and effort when it’s time to register for these activities. I recommend that parents keep a PDF of their child’s immunizations on their phones and with their birth certificates so they always have the information they need at their fingertips.
In addition to vaccination, your pediatrician is responsible for helping with developmental monitoring, answering questions about growth and behavior, and screening for common childhood problems like anemia and vision changes. Even if no vaccines are due at a recommended appointment, stay on track with the routine appointment schedule to help keep your family healthy as you navigate the parenting journey through childhood.