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Babies and Immunizations

Updated:
The beginning of a new school year is a reminder of immunization requirements.
But students aren't the only ones in need of vaccinations. Infants need them, too.
A new study this week raises concerns about low birth-weight babies who aren't getting necessary immunizations.

Doctors say immunizations against preventable diseases including polio, mumps and diphtheria are vital to the health of all children. Keeping these shots up to date is especially important for premature babies, babies born before 38 weeks of normal term and infants born weighing less than five pounds. Doctors say these children are even more susceptible to pertussis or whooping cough. "If these premature infants get whooping cough, they can have a particularly hard time with it," said Dr. Robert Davis, Center for Health Studies. "They could have a prolonged course of coughing. This could lead to brain damage and chronic lung problems that last their entire lives."

Experts say infants weighing more than three pounds, and those born prematurely but weighing more than five pounds, seem to have the necessary immunizations. The very low birth-weight babies weighing less than three pounds lagged behind, especially at six months of age. "Only about one half of those infants were up to date in terms of their immunizations. By age two, they had done a pretty good job of catching up, even though they were still slightly behind," said Davis.

The findings are published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers studied more than 11,000 premature and very low birth-weight infants at three west coast HMO's. Researchers can't explain why these babies lagged behind, despite the recommendation they maintain the same vaccination schedule as children born full term or normal weight. Experts do know that those infants who received the recommended well-child visits were more likely to get their shots on time.

Researchers recommend parents and doctors working together to make sure low weight babies receive their immunizations on time. Doctors say even if the child is sick with a minor illness such as a cold, parents should still go ahead and get the vaccinations as scheduled. Dr. Davis says infants born early and those with low-birth-weight do not experience more side effects or adverse reactions from being immunized on time.

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