Send children back to school protected from diseases

This is the third in a series of articles from Alamosa Immunization Coalition for National Immunization Awareness Month to remind everyone that vaccines are needed throughout their lives.

VALLEY — Back-to-school season is here. It’s time for parents to gather school supplies and backpacks. It’s also the perfect time to make sure children are up to date on their vaccines.

“Getting children all of the vaccines recommended by CDC’s immunization schedule is one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children from serious diseases,” said Kristina Steinberg, MD, family practice doctor at Valley Wide Health Systems. “If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to check with your child’s doctor to find out what vaccines your child needs.”

Vaccines protect children, preteens and teens from 16 serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk for diseases and can also spread diseases to others in their classrooms and community – including babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer or other health conditions. Schools are prone to outbreaks of infectious diseases. School-age children often spread diseases to their families and others with whom they come in contact. Your child may miss several days of school while recovering from an illness, such as whooping cough, chickenpox or the flu. Somebody will need to stay home from work to care for your child.

Babies and young children who have received immunizations following the recommended immunization schedule will be protected against 14 serious illnesses by age 2. Boosters for Dtap, polio, MMR and varicella are recommended at age 4-6 years. These are often referred to as “kindergarten shots”, although children should receive these at age 4 if attending pre-school. Children of all ages should receive a flu vaccine every year starting in infancy.

As protection from childhood vaccines wears off, adolescents need additional vaccines to extend protection. Adolescents also need protection from additional infections as well, before the risk of exposure increases. Tdap, HPV and meningococcal vaccines are recommended at age 11 and a flu vaccine is recommended every year.

Talk to your child’s doctor or other health care professional to make sure your children get the vaccines they need when they need them. Take advantage of any visit to the doctor – checkups, sick visits, even physicals for sports or college – to update your child’s vaccines. Families who need help paying for vaccines should ask their health care provider about the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. This program provides vaccines at no cost to eligible children who do not otherwise have access to recommended childhood vaccines.

Vaccines are thoroughly tested before licensing, and carefully monitored after they are licensed, to ensure they are very safe. Vaccines are the safest and most effective way to prevent several diseases. Currently, the United States has the safest vaccine supply in its history. The country’s long-standing vaccine safety system ensures vaccines are as safe as possible.

If you need official copies of immunization records for your child, or if you need to update your personal records, there are several places you can look, including your child’s medical provider or your local Public Health Department.