Thanks to vaccines, some illnesses that once ravaged our children are little more than memories. Immunizations have helped cut U.S. cases of polio, whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria up to 99 percent.

So why should you get shots for your child? Because these diseases haven't really gone away, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The viruses and bacteria that cause them still exist in this country, or in developing nations just an airplane ride away. Without vaccines, diseases of the past could return to the United States.

Before the measles vaccine, for instance, nearly everyone in the United States got measles. Easily spread, measles caused more than half a million illnesses and 400 deaths a year. Measles hit a U.S. low in 1998 with no related deaths and just 89 cases - all imported from overseas.

Still, many U.S. children do not get all their shots under the age of 2 – which are their years of greatest risk. Some parents are undecided on the importance of immunizations, while others fall behind schedule and only catch up when their children go to schools that require proof of up-to-date immunizations. Some parents may slip because they're not sure when their children should get vaccinations.

"Most parents and many physicians think that a baby with the sniffles or a low-grade fever or an ear infection should not get a shot," says St. Joseph's Children’s Hospital Community Health Manager Jana Butler. "But these types of minor illnesses aren't enough reason to delay an immunization".

Other parents cite fear of side effects for skipping shots. According to the CDC, the risks of the diseases that vaccines prevent are much greater than the risks of immunization, which are small.

"To keep your child's immunizations up to date, work with your physician to map out a schedule while your baby is a newborn,” says Butler.

Some tips:

  • Try to get your child's shots during well-baby visits.
  • Remember that your child can often get two or more shots at once.
  • Keep your own record of your child's shots in a safe place.
  • Check your child's immunization status whenever you visit your doctor.