As you get ready to send your children back to school this fall, your to-do list probably includes purchasing new sneakers, finding the perfect backpack and making sure your child’s clothes fit. Immunizations should be high on your list, too.
Whether your little one is an infant, toddler or about to begin middle school or high school, make sure your child’s immunizations are up to date. With August designated as National Immunization Month, now is a great time to check your child’s vaccination record or reach out to your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about the recommended immunization schedule.
Vaccines are vitally important to children, protecting them – and our community – against diseases such as COVID-19, flu, measles, mumps, whooping cough, rubella, chicken pox, polio, diphtheria and hepatitis A and B, among other illnesses. Skipping vaccinations can lead to meningitis, seizures, pneumonia, brain damage, paralysis, deafness, cancer and even death.
Yet despite the importance of vaccines, a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a substantial decrease in administered vaccine doses from March through May 2020 compared with the same periods in 2018 and 2019.
We understand that many parents delayed care for their children because of the pandemic. Medical offices, including ours, are taking safety very seriously, and we have precautions in place to minimize risk of exposure to COVID-19 within our medical centers. Please feel safe bringing your child in for much-needed vaccinations.
Vaccines are Safe and Effective
Vaccines do not cause infectious diseases (the influenza vaccine cannot cause the flu), and they do not cause autism. Through the years, many people have wrongly believed there’s a link between childhood immunizations and autism, but several studies have debunked this claim.
In fact, your child is more at risk of development delays, blindness and other disabilities if your child were to contract bacterial meningitis, which is preventable through the Haemophilus influenzae type b (hib), pneumococcal and meningococcal vaccines.
What Vaccines Does Your Child Need?
First and foremost, if your child is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, make an appointment to get your child vaccinated. Vaccines are currently available for children ages 12 and older; we are optimistic that younger children will be eligible later this year.
Immunization is the best way to protect our children and our community from this virus, and is an important step to help end the pandemic and return to normal. Though most cases of COVID-19 are mild in children, thousands of youth throughout the country have in fact been hospitalized due to COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and the best way to protect your child.
The known and potential benefits of this vaccine in children 12 years of age and older outweigh the known and potential risks. And the side effects of the vaccine – such as arm soreness, muscle aches and fatigue – are less harmful than contracting COVID-19.
Some parents may be alarmed by recent reports of a small number of adolescents developing myocarditis or pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination. These cases of inflammation of the heart have been rare, mild and treatable. The chances that your child will develop heart problems or die from COVID-19 are much higher than the chance they develop a case of myocarditis or pericarditis from the vaccine.
We understand some parents are worried about long-term side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. However, based on what we know about the technology of these vaccines and what we know about other immunizations, we have no reason to believe that the COVID-19 vaccine will cause problems years down the road. The vaccine does not cause the virus, it does not affect fertility and it does not change your DNA.
Even if your child already had COVID-19, we still strongly urge vaccination. Getting COVID-19 may offer some short-term natural immunity, but experts don’t know how long this protection lasts. The vaccine can work with your child’s immune system to help the body fight the virus if exposed again.
I also urge children to get the flu shot every year in the fall. Though cases of the flu were significantly down in 2020-21, we are expecting an uptick of cases during the 2021-22 flu season as people start congregating again. The flu vaccine is safe for children ages 6 months and older, and it is the best way to protect yourself and your family.
Other important vaccines include immunizations that protect against:
- Chicken pox. The varicella vaccine protects against this common childhood illness and is usually administered at 12 months and age 4.
- Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The DTaP vaccine is administered in five doses to children under age 7. Diphtheria can lead to heart failure and paralysis. Tetanus can lead to muscle problems. Pertussis, or whooping cough, can lead to severe breathing problems and coughing. All three illnesses can lead to death. The vaccine is given again at age 11-12 as Tdap.
- Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Hepatitis A is a foodborne and waterborne illness. Hepatitis B is bloodborne. Both can lead to liver failure. We administer two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine before a child turns 2. Children get their first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth and complete the series at 6 months of age. Haemophilus influenzae type b. This illness can lead to meningitis, intellectual disability, pneumonia and death. We aim to complete the vaccine series by the time a baby is 15 months.
- HPV. We recommend the vaccine be administered to girls and boys ages 9-26. Human Papilloma Virus causes throat cancer, cervical cancer, anal cancer and penile cancer.
- Measles, mumps and rubella. The MMR series of vaccines is administered when a child is 12 months and again around age 4. These illnesses can have dire consequences, including brain inflammation and deafness, so vaccination is extremely important. In recent years, there have been outbreaks of measles and mumps due to pockets of unvaccinated people.
- Meningitis. We administer this vaccine to children at ages 11 and 16. Meningitis is a serious illness that can lead to developmental disorders, seizures, stroke and death.
- Pneumococcus. The PCV13 vaccine protects against this disease, which can cause blood infection, pneumonia, meningitis and death. The vaccine series is given to children under age 2.
- Polio. Children get four doses of vaccine starting at 2 months and finishing around age 4-6. Polio can lead to deafness, blindness and paralysis.
- Rotavirus. The first dose is given to babies before they are 15 weeks old. Subsequent doses should be given before the baby is 8 months old. Rotavirus can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration.
Most of these illnesses aren’t around anymore because of vaccinations.
Enable Your Child to Play Safely
The COVID-19 vaccine may be administered alongside other vaccines, so if your child is due for a meningitis or tetanus shot, for example, we can give the COVID-19 vaccine at the same appointment.
Ensuring your children are up to date on their vaccines will enable them to safely participate in camp, sports and in-person school, as many programs require evidence of childhood vaccinations to enroll. They’ll also be able to safely play with their friends.
As children return to the activities they enjoy, it’s important to protect them and our community, including those who can’t be vaccinated, from these preventable illnesses. Please take a few minutes to ensure your child’s immunizations are up to date.