In recent years, whether or not to vaccinate school-age children has become a controversy in the United States, including here in Alaska. A very small but vocal minority of parents have questioned the importance of vaccinations concerned that vaccinations may cause certain illnesses or diseases in infants and small children, even though no scientific evidence exists to support this belief.
In reality, vaccinations have been, and continue to be, a lifesaver for young children, reducing childhood mortality and controlling the incidence of outbreaks. Many once-commonplace diseases like mumps and polio have been nearly eliminated in the US by modern medicine’s development of vaccines and immunizations.
Still, outbreaks of disease can occur—and schools are among the top communities where illness spreads quickly.
By making sure your preschool and school-age children are vaccinated, you’re protecting their health in the short term and long term.
You’re also being a responsible community member by making sure your children are not carrying a dangerous or possibly deadly virus that could put other children, and even adults, at serious risk—especially those with weakened immune systems, like patients going through cancer treatment or people receiving organ transplants.
The most vulnerable in our society—babies—are also at risk when children around them are not vaccinated. Newborns and infants are highly susceptible to disease because they are still too young for vaccines. Illnesses that are merely unpleasant for healthy, immunized children and adults can be deadly for unvaccinated babies.
A Few Facts about Outbreaks
According to the Center for Disease Control, outbreaks of measles and whooping cough (pertussis)—diseases we’d previously nearly eliminated or controlled thanks to vaccines—have increased in recent years. You may have seen coverage of this on your nightly news.
- In 2016, 48 US measles cases were reported in the first six months of the year.
- In 2014, the CDC reported 668 cases in 27 states across the US.
- But in 2000, the US had documented the elimination of measles, through a highly effective vaccination program.
- Measles can cause very serious health complications, especially in children under age 5. About 1 in 1000 cases can lead to brain swelling, which may cause brain damage. 1-2 in every 1000 cases result in death.
- Measles is extremely contagious, spread by sneezing and coughing. If one person gets it, 9 or 10 people near that person will also catch it—unless they are protected by vaccination.
Whooping Cough Facts:
- In the first half of 2016, nearly 6,000 cases were reported to the CDC, in all 50 US states and in Puerto Rico.
- Whooping cough can cause apnea (a pause in regular breathing) in babies.
- The illness can cause vomiting, exhaustion, and dehydration.
- Half of all infants under 1 year of age who get whooping cough need hospitalization. Babies sick enough to be in the hospital often suffer complications like pneumonia, convulsions, or encephalopathy (a disease that damages the brain). About 1 out of 100 of these infants die.
- After recovery, young children may have respiratory infections for a period up to several months following the onset of illness.
- Though you may associate whooping cough with babies, outbreaks can occur in older children (middle and high school age) as their immunity from a childhood vaccine begins to fade. Preteens and teens with whooping cough can develop pneumonia. They may lose a significant amount of weight, can temporarily lose bladder control, and may faint. Some crack ribs from coughing. Some need hospitalization while they recover.
- Teens who received whooping cough vaccinations as young children are likely to have a much milder illness than those who were not vaccinated.
Both of these potentially dangerous and deadly illnesses are preventable with vaccines available from your family physician or pediatrician. Why put your children (and other children) at unnecessary risk?
Diseases Requiring Vaccinations
The CDC states that young children in their early years need vaccines against 14 different vaccine-preventable illnesses, some of which can be life-threatening in young children. Which vaccinations do you need to protect your kids?
- Influenza (flu) vaccine. If your child is 6 months old, he or she can be vaccinated against the flu. If your infant is younger than 6 months, you and your child’s caregivers are advised to have the vaccination, to avoid spreading the virus to your child.
- MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. Children need two doses of this booster shot; the first at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second at ages 4 to 6.
- DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine. Children under age 7 can receive this booster shot, as can pregnant women.
- Polio, Hepatitis A & B, and Varicella (chickenpox).These vaccines can be given in infancy through preschool. Most are also required for K-12, and some require more than one dose.
- HiB (Haemophilus influenzae type b). To be effective, this vaccine is administered up to age 5.
- HPV, Tdap, meningococcal conjugate vaccine, and an annual flu shot (starting at ages 11-12). These recommended vaccines and booster shots can protect against cancer-causing infections, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, influenza, and meningococcal disease (meningitis), which can be deadly and which can be highly contagious in young people.
For specific details about recommended ages and when to schedule shots, talk to your physician.
To find out Alaska’s requirements (and descriptions of the diseases and their symptoms and repercussions), you can talk to your family doctor or your school administrator, or visit the Alaska State Vaccine Requirements page on the National Vaccine Information Center website. This non-profit website links to state government resources, including the State of Alaska’s immunization fact sheet.
You can also review the Centers for Disease Control recommended vaccination schedule here.
If You Miss a Vaccination
It’s OK if you’ve missed a shot or two along the way—doctors can catch up preteens and teens, and in fact have a schedule for this. The important thing is to not skip vaccinations on purpose or assume your child is done after a certain age.
If your child had a shot several years ago, this does not necessarily mean he or she doesn’t need another one in the future. Children need every recommended dose of each vaccine in order to be protected. Do your best to follow your state’s recommended schedule for childhood vaccinations.
Vaccines: Good for Daycare, Preschool. . . All the Way up to College
Believe it or not, vaccinations are available and helpful through most of your child’s life, even up through college and university. Some are even mandatory (although religious exemptions and medical exemptions are sometimes allowed).
States vary in their vaccination requirements. Many states require that your child be vaccinated against certain diseases before enrolling in school, even college.
Are Your Children Up-to-Date with Their Vaccines?
Summer will be over sooner than you think. Now, before the back-to-school rush begins, is a good time to look over your child’s medical records and see if he or she is due for a vaccination.
A good time-saving opportunity, if your child is an athlete, is to combine a vaccination visit with a pre-season athletic physical. In many states, this physical is required for athletes, especially teens. Some schools even require an annual physical before school starts, whether your child is an athlete or not.
Your physician can help you with answers. If you live in the Soldotna/Kenai area and are in need for vaccinations call Family Medical Clinic today at (907) 262-7566 or just click the button below to request an appointment or call back today!