Time is running out to get your child’s immunizations up-to-date before the school bells ring once again.
"The countdown is already on in many pediatrician offices to schedule back-to-school physicals and to make sure their child is up-to-date on required immunizations before entering the classroom. These requirements apply to children beginning daycare and continue right on through the college years," said Dr. J. Michael Klatte, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Baystate Children’s Hospital.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity to highlight the need for improving national immunization coverage levels.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), making sure children of all ages receive all their vaccinations on time is "one of the most important things parents can do to ensure their child’s long-term health, as well as the health of friends, classmates, and others in the community."
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.
2014-2015 immunization requirements as listed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health include:
- Two prior doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine: entry into any grade ranging from kindergarten through college graduate studies (including health science students)
- Two doses of varicella (chicken pox) vaccine: entry into any grade level ranging from kindergarten through 3rd grade, any grade level ranging from 7th grade through high school sophomores, and for all full-time college students, including graduate and health science students. (Beginning in 2017, two doses will be required for entry into every grade level in Massachusetts except daycare/preschool.
- One dose Tdap: entry into 7-10th grade, and for all full-time college students, including graduate and health science students. (Beginning in 2016, one dose will be required for entry into any grade level between 7th grade and college graduate studies.
The Tdap booster dose – recommended by the CDC for preteens at ages 11 or 12 years for protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) – became a requirement for Massachusetts school children only within the past few years.
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 those around them - especially babies and the elderly.
In other vaccination news, CDC officials announced in late July that the number of girls and boys ages 13-17 receiving human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine – which prevents various forms of cancer – remains unacceptably low.
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. Along with their published report, 2013 National Immunization Survey-Teen, the CDC is urging 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 proven safe and effective way to protect their child from serious and sometimes deadly diseases," Dr. Klatte said.
In fact, a new large-scale vaccine study published in early July in the journal Pediatrics, which included a review of more than 20,000 scientific titles and 67 papers on vaccine safety, concluded that evidence is strong in finding no ties to vaccines and the rising number of kids with autism, and that any side effects from vaccines are very rare.
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.