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Indiana State Department of Health

Immunization Home > Frequently Asked Questions Frequently Asked Questions

Why are infant and childhood immunizations so important?

These shots protect children from twelve diseases: measles, mumps, rubella (German Measles), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), hepatitis B, pneumococcal infections, influenza, and chickenpox.

By getting your child immunized, you will be fighting disease in two ways. First, you will be protecting your own child. Secondly, since healthy children don’t spread disease, you will be protecting other children as well.

Are these diseases very serious?

Today we might not think of these diseases as being very serious because, thanks to vaccines, we do not see them as often as we used to. In Indiana, there used to be thousands of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases every year. Some children with these diseases died, and some were permanently disabled. Now, because of effective vaccines and effective school immunization laws, these diseases are rare.

What are the chances of my child being exposed?

It is hard to say. Some of these diseases are very rare in the United States today, so the chances of exposure are small. Others are more common. If most children are immunized, the chances of exposure will remain low. So when you immunize your child, you protect your child—and you also protect other children.

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What will happen if my child doesn’t get these shots?

Maybe nothing, if your child is never exposed to disease. However, most of these diseases are spread from person to person. If your child has not had his/her shots, and is around someone who has measles, whooping cough, or one of the other childhood diseases, your child will probably get sick.

In addition, if your child gets one of these diseases, he/she could also spread it to other children who are not protected. If there are enough infected children in your community, it could lead to an epidemic, with many children getting sick.

What happens if a lot of children do not get their shots?

If many children go without their shots, certain infectious diseases will continue. Vaccines have been successful in preventing smallpox, so children no longer need the smallpox vaccine. We are very close to wiping out polio on a worldwide basis. These successes have been achieved because of immunizations.

Are immunizations safe?

Yes, very safe. But like any medicine they can occasionally cause reactions. Usually these are mild, like a sore arm or a slight fever. Serious reactions are rare. Your doctor or nurse will discuss these with you before giving immunizations to your child. The important thing to remember is that children are in much more danger from the diseases than from the shots.

If my child had a bad reaction to a vaccine, will she still have to be immunized?

Your school has a form that must be filled out by your doctor before your child attends school. Your doctor must indicate in writing that your child cannot receive further doses of that vaccine because of a bad reaction. If most of the other children in the school are fully immunized, then it is less likely that your child will be exposed to disease at school. For that reason, most schools are very strict about immunization requirements.

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How many shots does my child need, and when?

Your child should get the first shots at two months of age, except for the first shot for hepatitis B, which is often given in the hospital after birth. You will have to visit a healthcare provider for more shots four or five times before your child starts school. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when immunizations are needed. Remember, each of these visits is important! Your child needs several doses of most vaccines to be completely protected.

How many immunizations does my child need before entering school?

For Kindergarten or first grade entry, your child needs five doses of DTaP (Diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis), two doses of measles-containing vaccine (MMR - combined measles, mumps and rubella), four doses of polio, and three doses of hepatitis B vaccine. (As of the 2004-05 school year, your child will also need a chickenpox shot or a statement that he/she has had chickenpox disease.)

Why does my child have to get immunizations before going to school?

Children need to be safe and healthy so they can learn. Before there were effective school immunization laws, there were many outbreaks of certain infectious diseases in schools. Now, since most children are immunized before attending school, these outbreaks are very rare.

What if my child did not get her shots when she was supposed to, or has gotten behind schedule?

If you have children who did not begin their immunizations at two months of age, or who have had only some of their shots, they can still be fully immunized. It is never too late to start getting immunizations. If your child has only had some of his/her shots, he/she does not have to start over. The shots already given will count. Just continue the schedule where they left off.

If you have children who were not immunized when they were infants, contact your doctor or the health department clinic. They will tell you when to bring the children in for their shots and what shots they need.

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Isn’t getting all these shots expensive?

It doesn’t have to be. If you take your child to a public health clinic, you might have to pay a small charge for the nurse to give the immunization, but the shots themselves are free. Clinics that get vaccines from the government are forbidden by law from denying you vaccinations because you can’t pay. Your doctor may participate in the Vaccines For Children (VFC) Program. This program provides free vaccine for children on Medicaid, children without insurance, and American Indian and Alaskan Native children.

How do vaccines work?

When you get an infection, your body reacts by producing substances called antibodies. These antibodies fight the infection and help you get over the illness. They usually stay in your system, even after the infection has gone, and protect you from getting the same illness again. This is called immunity.

Newborn babies are immune to many diseases because they have antibodies they received from their mothers. However, this immunity does not last. It disappears during the first year of life.

Fortunately, we can keep children protected against many infections even after they lose their mothers’ antibodies. We do this by vaccinating them against infectious diseases. The germs that cause disease are made into vaccines. These vaccines can be given to children, usually as shots. Vaccines fool the body into thinking it is under attack by disease, and the body reacts by producing antibodies. These antibodies stay in the body. Then, if the child is exposed to the actual infection or disease, he or she is protected.

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Immunization is against my religion. What do I do?

You must provide a signed written objection to the school, stating that you have a religious objection to immunization. That objection must be renewed every year.

Why has hepatitis B been added to the list of vaccines required for school entry?

Hepatitis B is a very serious disease. Complications may include hospitalization, cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver), chronic (life-time) infection, liver cancer and death. The vaccine to prevent hepatitis B is both safe and effective. In addition, hepatitis B can be transmitted from a mother to her unborn child. Children born to infected mothers are far more likely to suffer the severe complications of hepatitis B, including chronic infection, cirrhosis and death. If Indiana’s school law is effective, we can prevent this infection in future generations.

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(Last updated July 2004)

Adapted for Indiana based on information from the National Immunization Program at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Click here for more information from the CDC

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