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All About Childhood Vaccines – S1 E20

We roll up our sleeves on this episode to talk about all things vaccines! From infancy to childhood, your family doctor or pediatrician will recommend a schedule of vaccines to keep your kids healthy and protected from serious illnesses. Plus, vaccines allow them to play with friends and attend daycare and school safely!

Retired pediatrician and Board President of The Arizona Partnership for Immunization (TAPI) Dr. Andrea Houfek joins host Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez to tell parents what to expect with childhood vaccinations. Learn about the recommended vaccine schedule, what diseases are covered, and why vaccines are a key part of your child’s healthcare.

Podcast Resources:
Arizona Partnership for Immunizations
Vaccines for Infants
Vaccines for Toddlers
Vaccines for School Aged Children
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

host Guest: Dr. Andrea Houfek is a retired pediatrician and Board President of The Arizona Partnership for Immunization (TAPI).


Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Program Director for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. As a busy parent myself, I know just how valuable your time is. That’s why we’re here with quick tips from the experts.

Learn about breastfeeding, car seat safety, and more all here on The Parenting Brief.

Thank you for tuning in to another episode of The Parenting Brief. On this podcast, we recently discussed well-child visits. While those visits are important for addressing the growth and development of your little one, you are also given the opportunity to have vaccines administered during the same visit.

This helps so we don’t have to find the extra time for [00:01:00] extra appointments to make sure they are up to date on their shots. From measles and mumps, to rotavirus and whooping cough, and so much more, vaccines help keep our children protected from many serious illnesses that they could contract throughout their life.

But understanding the vaccination schedule, the various different shots and what it all means for the health of your little one can be a bit complicated. It can also feel overwhelming knowing that they might be uncomfortable getting a shot and no one wants to see their baby sad. That’s why we’ve recruited a retired pediatrician to join us on today’s episode,

to share what moms and dads of children from birth to age five need to know about this important healthcare step.

Joining us today is Dr. Andrea Houfek, a retired pediatrician and board president of the Arizona Partnership for Immunizations. It’s so great to have you on the show today.

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:02:00] First, what is a vaccine, immunization and inoculation? Are they the same thing? We tend to hear them interchangeably

so I just want to make sure that we know what we’re talking.

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Well, that’s a great place to start. Vaccination itself is the act of introducing a vaccine into the body and produce protection against a specific disease. On the other hand, immunization is the process by which a person becomes protected or immune to a disease through vaccination.

Lots of people use these terms interchangeably. Vaccination, innoculation, jab, poke, shot. It’s all about preventing dangerous diseases.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: And what type of viruses and illnesses do vaccines protect us from and why are they so important?

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Well, first of all, we all know that young children are exposed to thousands of germs every day in their environment.

This happens when they eat the food, they breathe the air and they put things in their mouth, which includes just about everything. [00:03:00] Most of those germs are harmless, but for those germs that are harmful vaccination through childhood is essential. It helps provide immunity before children are exposed to those harmful and even potentially life-threatening diseases.

The standard recommended immunizations that kids get to protect them are against 18 different vaccine preventable diseases. They included diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, which most of us know as whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chicken pox, pneumococcal disease, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningococcal disease, HPV, rotavirus, Hib, and flu.

And soon to come COVID-19.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So I hear from some parents, as you said, like getting the vaccine really provides that protection prior to exposure. But I hear from some parents who might be hesitant that they don’t see the reason to get a specific vaccine because their child isn’t at risk or they don’t see the illness as a risk.

So [00:04:00] for example, Hep B, if mom isn’t Hep B positive or living in at-risk conditions or something like the chicken pox, you know, which used to be seen as just a childhood rite of passage. Why are the vaccines for these illnesses still important?

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Well, I think when pediatricians talk to parents about vaccines, they like to address those specific concerns that they have, but I’ll try and sort of cover the common ones.

Chickenpox is the first, it may have been a rite of passage for kids many years ago, like when I was a kid, but it can be serious even life-threatening, especially in babies, adolescents and pregnant women, and just about anybody who has a weakened immune system. Some interesting facts that I like to share with people that you might not know about

chicken pox include that about one in every 1,000 children infected with that virus that causes chickenpox will develop a severe pneumonia or encephalitis. In addition about one in every 50 women infected with varicella during their pregnancy will deliver a child with [00:05:00] birth defects. That’s pretty scary.

And then finally, there’s a bacteria called group A streptococcus, you’ll read it in the media as flesh eating bacteria, and that can enter the skin through one of those chicken pox lesions. Sometimes it causes severe even fatal disease. So given all those things, we now know that chicken pox isn’t nearly as innocent as most might’ve thought in the past.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: And you’ve touched on this a little bit about why it is important to get those vaccines early. But I do think that one element that tends to be a bit surprising for parents, especially first-time parents, is that there is a recommended vaccine schedule for when a child should receive certain shots and how many doses they should receive.

So why is it important to follow that recommended schedule of these vaccine doses?

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Well, the recommended schedule was developed to represent the ideal timing in terms of developing immunity and balancing that with safety and efficacy. So like all good [00:06:00] baby proofing plans, the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for the immunization schedule, balance safety and effectiveness in protecting those babies.

It’s based on how a child’s immune system responds to vaccine at different ages and how likely they are to be exposed to a particular disease. So the fact is that the younger the baby is the higher their risk of serious disease complications. For example, for adults, whooping cough or pertussis might mean just a lingering cough for a few weeks. In babies less than a year old, it can be really serious

and even deadly. That means pertussis vaccine is given early in the first year of life, and it means adults get a booster added to their tetanus shot, just to protect those babies that are in their lives.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: I’d like to address the elephant in the room when talking about vaccinations, and that is that fear of a side effect or negative reaction from receiving a vaccine.

How common are side effects of vaccines and what does it mean to have a side effect, [00:07:00] what’s considered normal, and at what point should someone call a doctor if they do have a reaction? What does this look like and where is that line of concern?

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Well, it is a concern that parents and pediatricians have because any vaccine can cause side effects.

Usually they’re pretty minor, maybe a low grade fever, fussiness, sore leg or arm, depending on where the site was, and that usually goes away within a few days. Some vaccines can cause a headache, maybe fatigue or loss of appetite, and rarely, very rarely a child might experience a severe allergic reaction or a neurologic side effect like a seizure. That’s when you need to seek immediate medical attention.

And although those rare side effects are a concern, the risk of the vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small. And the benefits of getting a vaccine are much greater than the possible side effects for almost all children. We have years and years of experience with vaccines and there’s no reason to [00:08:00] believe that vaccines cause any long-term harm.

I can certainly understand the concern, but the science shows that the risk of the diseases is greater than any risk posed by vaccines.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Do you think part of the challenge right now is that there are some vaccine preventable diseases such as polio, where the risk of contracting polio appears to be less than the risk of a side effect to the vaccine?

And so families, parents, caregivers, who are making these decisions are looking at that risk versus benefit and see, well, polio is unlikely, even though a small chance of a side effect, there’s a greater risk of that than getting polio. Is there any truth to that? Is that anything that you have heard or considered, or how do those risks versus benefits start to weigh out

as we do reduce the risk of vaccine preventable diseases?

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Well, you’re absolutely right. [00:09:00] I mean, I talk to pediatricians all the time who hear that from families that they talk to. Most people who are of childbearing age have never seen many of the vaccine preventable diseases. Even at my age, in my early sixties, I have never seen polio.

I mean, I had friends whose parents had like a shrunken limb. I remember a girl whose uncle had an arm that was totally unusable to him and it was from polio. And I remember my mom who was a nurse giving me the sugar cube with polio on it. And I went with her door to door with the March of Dimes

to raise money for eradicating polio, but I think it’s important for families to understand that those diseases are just one outbreak away and in our world where airplanes go all over the world all the time, when it’s not a pandemic, they come from everywhere and it would only take one case of polio to spread like wildfire [00:10:00] or any of the other diseases.

And it used to just be something people knew, you know, you had lots of children and you knew you would lose one or two to a vaccine preventable disease, but there was no vaccine back then. So, you know, do we really want to go back to those dark ages? And I also like to appeal to people’s sense of community because you’re not just protecting your child from something that’s, they’re unlikely to get.

You’re protecting the child who in their second grade class might get leukemia, or for some other reason, be immunosupressed, you want your child to be the one who’s acting as that cocoon to shelter those kinds of kids.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So if someone hasn’t gotten their child vaccinated, or maybe they’ve missed doses of a vaccine, is it too late to start or catch up on those doses?

Dr. Andrea Houfek: No, it’s really true when they say it’s never too late. There’s actually a specific recommended catch-up schedule for kids who are behind on their immunizations. And similar to the other schedule that we talked about, it’s [00:11:00] based on science. All you need to do is get your child and get your questions and concerns answered and addressed, and then you can get your child caught up

so they’re protected and safe.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: As a pediatrician, if you could share just one thing with parents that you’d like them to know about these childhood vaccinations, what would it be?

Dr. Andrea Houfek: Well, I’d like to stress that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks of contracting the diseases they prevent. I personally fully vaccinated my own son in accordance with the recommendations that were in place at the time when he was growing up.

He’s obviously very precious to me and I would never take any chances with his health. So that shows you how strongly that as a pediatrician and a mom, I recommend doing the same for your own child.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Want to learn more? Head to the links in the show notes for additional information and resources. And because we have more episodes on [00:12:00] the way, make sure to follow the Parenting Brief wherever you listen to podcasts. If you found today’s show helpful, feel free to pass it along to the parents in your life. Until next time,

this is Jessica. You’ve got this, Mom!

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