Back to School: Immunized at Every Age

school suppliesAs summer comes to a close, parents of young children prepare a mental checklist to get ready for “Back to School” season. Gather school supplies (check), do a little shopping (check), meet the child’s new teacher (check), and organize the family for their new fall routine. It’s also the perfect time to make sure your kids are up to date on their vaccinations.

Most schools require children to be immunized before enrolling or starting school in order to protect the health of all students, so parents should ensure their kids have had all the school’s required vaccinations before the first day. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the required school vaccinations, parents should also consider the entire list of recommended vaccinations for their kids to make sure they are completely protected. Schools are a prime location for transmitting vaccine-preventable diseases because kids are in such close contact with one another throughout the day, and you wouldn’t want your child to be vulnerable to a disease because he or she wasn’t fully vaccinated.

So just what is the difference between required and recommended vaccinations? Are required vaccines more important than those that are simply recommended? For example, the meningitis and Tdap vaccines are required for teens enrolling in school in the state of Texas. The flu and HPV vaccines are not required, but are recommended for this same age group. Does this mean that immunizing against HPV is any less important than immunizing against meningitis? In short – no.

Recommended vaccines are part of a comprehensive list published by the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices). The committee is comprised of medical and public health professionals, many of which have expertise in vaccinology, immunology, pediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, family medicine, virology, public health, infectious diseases, and/or preventive medicine. They meet multiple times during the year to review the latest vaccine safety information and information on new vaccines or vaccine technologies.

Required vaccines are often determined by school entry laws passed by the state legislature, or in some cases, by regulatory bodies, like health departments, who have been given the power to require certain vaccines. Some recommended vaccines are not required, but that doesn’t make them any less important. It just means that the state legislature or state health department (on the authority of the state legislature) has not yet mandated that they be required for kids to attend school.

Flu vaccine is a good example of an extremely important vaccine that’s often not required for school entry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and estimated 38 million school days are lost every year due to the flu. As we mentioned last week [link to last Friday’s post], flu kills an average of 23,000 Americans every year – more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. A total of 106 children have died from the flu so far in the 2013-2014 flu season in the United States.

Flu vaccine might not be required, but it’s certainly important.

The ACIP recommends children ages 4 to 6 should receive boosters of four vaccines: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), chickenpox, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and polio. All 11-12 year olds should receive the Tdap vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine, and the HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV. Everyone 6 months and older should get flu vaccines annually.

And remember, these vaccines don’t just protect your child. They protect your family and any other families you may come into contact with, including younger siblings and elderly grandparents.

So, if you haven’t done so already, double check your child’s immunization records or schedule a visit to their pediatrician’s office. Getting prepared now will avoid a last minute rush and will contribute to the health of your child, and that of their classmates and community.

To see a vaccination schedule for ages 7-18, click here

To create a personalized schedule for your teen or preteen click here

For more general information about vaccines, and vaccine-preventable diseases, check out The Immunization Partnership’s resource page.

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