Protecting your child from contagious diseases. All 50 states require children to be vaccinated against seven of childhood’s once most-dreaded diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, and German measles (rubella). These immunizations must be given before a child enters school; some states require a doctor’s certificate. Immunization has virtually eliminated these diseases; a worldwide campaign has eradicated smallpox, making that vaccination no longer necessary.
All vaccines are injected, except polio, which is given by mouth. They provide permanent protection by triggering the production of antibodies that attack and destroy disease organisms. Vaccines are made, as a rule, from harmless (dead or weakened) infectious agents unable to cause the disease but strong enough to stimulate the antibody response. Side effects, if any, are usually limited to soreness at the site of the injection, slight fever, or rash. Rarely, there is a severe reaction (fever over 105°F, screaming, convulsions); if this occurs, call your doctor.
Your pediatrician will schedule vaccinations for all seven diseases as appropriate for each child. The DTP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) is given in five separate doses: the first three at 2-month intervals starting as early as 2 months of age; the next at 18 months; the fifth just before the child enters school. Thereafter, tetanus alone should be given at least every 10 years. Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines are given in one injection, usually at 15 months; polio vaccine in four or five doses starting as early as 2 months and ending at start-of-school age.
Adults traveling abroad may need immunization against certain diseases. Well in advance of your trip, ask your travel agent, airline, or the embassies of countries you expect to visit what shots you will require. Or write the Information Office, World Health Organization, 525 23rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20037.