Time Is Running Out To Get Your Child Immunized for Back To School

 

SPRINGFIELD – Shopping for back to school? Did you forget something?

            How about checking those vaccine records and making sure your child is completely ready for school?

            “Time is running out to get your child’s immunizations up-to-date before the school bells ring once again,” said Dr. J. Michael Klatte, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity to highlight the need for improving immunization coverage levels locally and across the country.

            Getting vaccinated according to the recommended immunization schedule is one of the most important things a parent can do to protect their child’s health. Diseases can quickly spread among groups of children who aren’t vaccinated. Whether it’s a baby starting at a new child care facility, a toddler heading to preschool, a student going back to elementary, middle or high school – or even a college freshman – parents should check their child’s vaccination records.

            Child care facilities, preschool programs, schools and colleges are prone to outbreaks of infectious diseases. Children in these settings can easily spread illnesses to one another due to poor hand washing, not covering their mouths when they cough, and other factors such as interacting in crowded environments.

            When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk for disease and can spread disease to others in their play groups, child care centers, classrooms and communities – including babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer and other health conditions.

            Additionally, states may require children who are entering child care or school to be vaccinated against certain diseases. Colleges and universities may have their own requirements, especially for students living in residence halls. Parents should check with their child’s doctor, school or the local health department to learn about the requirements in their state or county.

Most vaccines are given during the first five to six years of life, when children are most vulnerable to infections. Other immunizations are recommended during adolescent or adult years and, for certain vaccines, booster immunizations are recommended throughout life.

According to Dr. Klatte, by state law, children must be up-to-date on their required immunizations in order to start school. 2017-2018 immunization requirements as listed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH) include:

  • Two prior doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine for entry into any grade level ranging from kindergarten through college graduate studies (including health science students).
  • Two doses of varicella (chicken pox) vaccine for entry into any grade level ranging from kindergarten through college graduate studies (including health science students), unless one has documented evidence of immunity or a history of varicella confirmed by a physician
  • One dose Tdap for entry into any grade level ranging from grade seven through college graduate studies (including health science students).

            The Tdap booster dose – recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for preteens at ages 11 or 12 years – provides protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Children initially receive protection against these bacteria with the DTaP vaccine, which loses its protective effectiveness over time. As a result, preteens and teens need to get a Tdap booster dose. This is important not only to protect them, but also those around them – especially babies and the elderly.

According to the CDC, all preteens 11-12 years old need one dose of Tdap vaccine, one dose of meningococcal vaccine (to help prevent against bacterial meningitis), and three doses of HPV vaccine  to be fully protected against these serious diseases. A second dose of meningococcal vaccine is also necessary at age 16. The MA DPH (via the Massachusetts HPV Initiative) and the CDC urge health care professionals to give a strong recommendation for all of the adolescent vaccines recommended for boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years, and to recommend HPV vaccine as they would Tdap and meningococcal vaccines.

“I am always asked by parents if vaccines are safe for their children, largely because of inaccurate information found on the internet and elsewhere, which attempts to link autism to vaccinations. My answer to them is that vaccines are the only scientifically proven safe and effective way to protect their child from serious and sometimes deadly diseases,” said Dr. Klatte.

Parents should follow the vaccination schedule provided by the CDC, which is designed by experts to ensure maximum protection and safety for children at various ages. You can find schedules online at www.aap.org/immunization or www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/.   

For more information on Baystate Children’s Hospital, visit www.baystatehealth.org/bch.

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