Back-to-school season is here. It’s time for parents to gather school supplies and backpacks. But it’s also the perfect time to make sure your children are up-to-date on their vaccines.
National Immunization Awareness Month
To celebrate the importance of immunizations for people of all ages – and to make sure children are protected with all the vaccines they need – Baystate Children’s Hospital is joining with partners nationwide in recognizing August as National Immunization Awareness Month.
“Getting children all of the vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's immunization schedule is one of the most important things parents can do to ensure a healthy future for their children,” said Dr. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Children’s Hospital.
“If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to check with your doctor in order to find out what vaccines your child needs, especially for those going back to or starting school for the first time,” he added.
Vaccines protect against a number of serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk for infections, and can also spread these illnesses to others in their classrooms and community – including babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated, and people with immune systems weakened due to cancer or other health conditions.
Doses and Timing
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. 2015-2016 immunization requirements as listed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health include:
- Two prior doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine for entry into any grade 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 4th grade, any grade level ranging from 7th grade through high school juniors, 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 for entry into 7-11th 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)
- One dose meningococcal vaccine for newly enrolled students in grades 9-12, who will be residing in a dormitory or living arrangement recognized by the school, and for all full-time college students, including graduate and health science students, who will be residing in a campus dormitory or similar living arrangement
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.
Are vaccines safe?
“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, among other things, attempts to link autism to vaccinations. My answer to them is that vaccines are the only proven safe and effective way to protect their children from these serious and sometimes deadly diseases,” said Dr. Klatte.
Philosophical and personal belief exemptions from having one’s child immunized, which are currently allowed in 17 states, are not allowed by law in Massachusetts, even if documentation of such is signed by a doctor. Massachusetts law does allow for a child to have a medical exemption from immunization, and signed documentation must be provided by the child’s doctor. Massachusetts state law also allows for religious exemption. In June 2015, in response to a significant number of widespread outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in their state over the past few years (including a recent measles outbreak at Disneyland, in which 117 people were infected), California recently joined West Virginia and Mississippi as states that prohibit by law the use of religious exemptions from immunization.
Parents should have their children immunized according to the vaccination schedule provided by the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This schedule is designed by experts to ensure maximum protection and safety for children of all ages.