February 1, 2011

Experts Approve Of Updated Immunization Schedule

Experts say that children will be better protected against pneumonia and other infections caused by the pneumococcus bacterium with this year's updated immunization schedule.

The number of vaccinations kids should get has not changed, but authorities now recommend using Pfizer's Prevnar 13 (PCV13), which guards against six more types of pneumococcal bacteria than the earlier version.

"Parents should feel very good about immunizing their children," Dr. Neal Halsey, who heads the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told Reuters.

"We are preventing millions of cases of disease, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths with these vaccines every year."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control approved the new vaccine schedule, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The schedule includes guidance for administrating Hepatitis B vaccine to kids who did not receive the recommend birth dose.

For children who are not fully immunized against pertussis and are ages 7 through 10, they should receive a single dose of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap).

Halsey said PCV13 protects against over 90 percent of pneumococcal infections.

According to the CDC, over a million Americans end up in the hospital every year with pneumonia, and in 2007 alone about 52,000 people died from the disease.

Among kids under five, pneumococcus bacteria lead to about 5,000 cases a year of meningitis, bloodstream infections and other serious illness.

Halsey told Reuters that the number of these types of infections took a nosedive after the previous version of PCV13, PCV7, came into use in 2000, and "We anticipate that there will be a further decline in disease" with the new vaccine.

Although most parents do follow the recommended vaccination schedule, some have been leery of the shots, fearing they might damage toddler's brains.

The mercury-based preservative thimerosal has brought concerns.  Other have worried that giving kids several shots over a short interval might overload their developing immune systems.

However, Dr. Michael J. Smith, a pediatrician at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky, said there is no credible evidence to bolster any of those concerns.

He found in a study last year that kids who had gotten a lot of shots did just as well on psychological tests as those who had fewer.

Smith told Reuters that while no study has ever linked thimerosal to autism, the chemical has not been removed from all childhood vaccines.

"For those parents who are still concerned," Smith added, "there are flu vaccines available that don't contain thimerosal."

Vaccinations can cause swelling and soreness at the injection site, as well as mild fever in some cases.  However, according to Halsey of Johns Hopkins, serious side effects like severe allergic reactions are very rare.

"Those risks are thousands of times smaller than the risks of the diseases that are prevented," he said.


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