Every parent wants what's best for their child, and their health and well-being is without question one of our top concerns. This is especially true in the age of modern parenting, where the media and technology constantly remind us of the potential dangers that our children face, elevating parental anxiety to levels that I never knew when I was growing up. In this climate of fear that leaves no stone unturned when it involves keeping our family safe, it makes perfect sense for us to protect our children from disease, and the best way to accomplish this is by immunizing them. August is Immunization Awareness Month and a good time to make sure your children (and you) are up to date on vaccines.

The simple reality of the matter is that immunizations (or vaccines) save lives and are one of the most important and effective public health policies in the world today. Vaccines have helped to protect generations of people from the scourge of many horrible diseases, many of which are no longer even in our consciousness because they have been eliminated, including polio and smallpox. Unfortunately, children can still contract vaccine-preventable diseases, including whooping cough (pertussis) and measles. In 2010, there were over 21,000 cases of pertussis that resulted in 26 deaths, mostly in infants under the age of 6 months.

This coincides with a growing movement of parents who are declining immunizations for their children for various reasons, including safety concerns, despite the fact that vaccines have been repeatedly shown to be safe. Furthermore, while they might not occur in this country, many of these diseases still exist in the world today, and the prevalence of international travel means that we are still at risk for exposure.

With summer beginning to wind down and school on the horizon, now is a good time to make sure your children's immunizations are up to date. Here are 4 good reasons to make sure that this gets done.

1. Vaccines Are Safe

Any therapy, drug, or treatment given to children must undergo a long and thorough testing process to ensure its efficacy and safety, though some minor pain and discomfort may result from the injection. Serious side effects, including allergic reactions, are very rare, and study after study has found no link between vaccines and autism.

2. Vaccines Will Protect Your Family and Community

Getting immunized protects not only your child, but your family, as well. Certain people cannot tolerate vaccines because they are too young (< 6 months), have severe allergies, or have pre-existing health conditions. These individuals are susceptible to diseases that we can expose them to, but getting vaccinated can reduce the spread of these diseases.

3. Vaccines Protect Future Generations

Vaccines save lives now and in the future. Diseases that a generation ago struck fear in the hearts of society are no longer even on our radar. Children no longer get smallpox vaccines, and the birth defects associated with fetal exposure to German measles (rubella) has been greatly reduced. Immunizing kids today will help to reduce the risk of these diseases tomorrow.

4. Vaccines Save Time and Money

Though money is not the most important consideration when it comes to your family's health, it is worth noting that many schools require immunizations to be up-to-date before a child can attend. If a child contracts a vaccine-preventable illness, it could mean time at home and away from work for a parent. Most vaccines are covered by insurance, and the government has programs (Vaccines for Children) that provide vaccines for families in need.

What You Should Do

If you have questions or concerns, talk to your pediatrician. Speak with your school nurse about what vaccines your child needs to get before attending classes. Keep a record of what vaccines your child has had and when they received them, and bring this record with you whenever you see your child's doctor. Even though hospitals have state-of-art computer systems, records get lost, especially if you move.

And parents, while you're at it, it's a good idea to keep a record of your own immunizations. Certain jobs require them, and if you ever go back to school, count on the fact that you will be asked for them. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked by my doctor when I had my last tetanus booster.

To learn more about Immunization Awareness Month, visit the website for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To learn more about the importance of vaccines, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).