How Vaccines Prevent Diseases
The diseases that vaccines prevent can be dangerous, or even deadly. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to help it safely develop immunity to disease.
When germs, such as bacteria or viruses, invade the body, they attack and multiply. This invasion is called an infection, and the infection is what causes illness. The immune system then has to fight the infection. Once it fights off the infection, the body is left with a supply of cells that help recognize and fight that disease in the future.
Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection, but this “imitation” infection does not cause illness. It does, however, cause the immune system to develop the same response as it does to a real infection so the body can recognize and fight the vaccine-preventable disease in the future. Sometimes, after getting a vaccine, the imitation infection can cause minor symptoms, such as fever. Such minor symptoms are normal and should be expected as the body builds immunity.
As children get older, they require additional doses of some vaccines for best protection. Older kids also need to be protected against additional diseases they may encounter.
Recommended Pediatric Immunization Schedule
- Birth - Hepatitis B
- 2 months - DTap/IPV/Hep B (Pediarix), Prevnar 13, HIB, Rotarix
- 4 months - DTap/IPV/Hep B (Pediarix), Prevnar 13, HIB, Rotarix
- 6 months* - DTap/IPV/Hep B (Pediarix), Prevnar 13
- 12 months - MMR, Varicella, Prevnar 13, HIB, Hepatitis A
- 15/18 months - DTap, Hepatitis A
- 4 years* - DTap/IVP (Kinrix), MMR/Varicella (Proquad)
- 12/13 years - TDap, Menactra, HPV
*Must be at least that old to receive vaccines.
For a printable schedule click here.
There are things that parents can do before, during and after vaccine visits to make them easier and less stressful.
Before the Visit
Come prepared! Take these steps before your child gets a shot to help make the immunization visit less stressful on you both.
- Write down any questions you may have.
- If this will be your child's first immunization visit with the Western Montana Clinic, find your child’s personal immunization record and bring it to your appointment. An up-to-date record tells your provider exactly what shots your child has already received.
- Pack a favorite toy or book, and a blanket that your child uses regularly to comfort your child.
- A mild illness is usually not a reason to reschedule a vaccination visit. Learn more about vaccines when your child is sick.
For older children
- Be honest with your child. Explain that shots can pinch or sting, but that it won’t hurt for long.
- Engage other family members, especially older siblings, to support your child.
- Avoid telling scary stories or making threats about shots.
- Remind children that vaccines can keep them healthy.
At the Provider's Office
If you have questions about immunizations, ask your child’s provider or nurse. Your child’s provider will give you Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) for the shots that your child will be getting that day. VIS include information about the risks and benefits of each vaccine.
For babies and younger children
Try these ideas for making the shots easier on your child.
- Distract and comfort your child by cuddling, singing, or talking softly.
- Smile and make eye contact with your child. Let your child know that everything is ok.
- Comfort your child with a favorite toy or book. A blanket that smells familiar will help your child feel more comfortable.
- Hold your child firmly on your lap, whenever possible. Learn more about how to hold your child during shots.
Once your child has received all of the shots, be especially supportive. Try these tips for soothing your baby:
- Skin-to-skin contact
- Offering a bottle or sweet beverage, like juice (when the child is older than 6 months)
For older children and adolescents
- Take deep breaths with your child to help "blow out" the pain.
- Point out interesting things in the room to help create distractions.
- Tell or read stories.
- Support your child if he or she cries. Never scold a child for not "being brave."
Fainting (syncope) can be common among adolescents immediately after getting shots. To help prevent any injuries that could occur from a fall while fainting, your preteen or teen should stay seated for 15 minutes after the shot. Learn more about fainting.
Before you leave the appointment, ask your child’s provider for advice on using non-aspirin pain reliever and other steps you can take at home to comfort your child.
After the Shots
Sometimes children experience mild reactions from vaccines, such as pain at the injection site, a rash or a fever. These reactions are normal and will soon go away. The following tips will help you identify and minimize mild side effects.
- Review any information your provider gives you about the shots, especially the Vaccine Information Statements -VIS, or other sheets that outline which side effects might be expected.
- Use a cool, wet cloth to reduce redness, soreness, and swelling in the place where the shot was given.
- Reduce any fever with a cool sponge bath. If your provider approves, give non-aspirin pain reliever.
- Give your child lots of liquid. It’s normal for some children to eat less during the 24 hours after getting vaccines.
- Pay extra attention to your child for a few days. If you see something that concerns you, call your provider.