Are Your Child's Immunizations Up to Date?
Vaccines Help to Protect Against Serious and Sometimes Fatal Diseases
With the start of school just around the corner, it's time to think about your child's immunizations. There are a number of vaccinations that need to be up to date before children can enter school in the fall.
"Parents should review their child's yellow vaccine card with their pediatrician to determine if their child needs any additional vaccinations before they start school," said Dr. Swetha Kowsik, a Fremont pediatrician who is a member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "Now that many health care providers have transitioned to electronic medical records, including the Washington Township Medical Foundation, even if a parent has misplaced the card, the records are often retrievable."
Vaccines offer safe and effective protection against diseases like diphtheria, smallpox, polio, measles, and influenza (flu). They work with the body to protect it from diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. They do so by helping the body build up antibodies that stay in the bloodstream, ready to fight the germs if you come in contact with them.
Except for certain boosters and a yearly flu vaccination, most immunizations are given during the first five to six years of life, according to Dr. Kowsik. The first one - a hepatitis B vaccination - is generally administered soon after birth, before the baby even leaves the hospital.
"Vaccines are given at birth, ages 2, 4 and 6 months old, 1 to 6 years old, and 11 to 18 years old, in addition to the yearly flu shot," she explained. "Additional vaccines are available for those with chronic medical conditions and other special cases, and for those traveling abroad."
For most of these vaccines, more than one dose is needed before age 6 to fully protect against the disease. These include immunizations for hepatitis b, rotavirus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumonia, polio, chickenpox, mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (also called whooping cough), and tetanus. Protection against measles, mumps, and rubella is provided in one vaccination called the MMR while diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus protection is given through immunizations known as Dtap and Tdap.
After the whooping cough epidemic hit California in 2010, causing 10 infant deaths, there was a push to revaccinate teens and adults to prevent the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious. Because babies are not fully protected, they can get whooping cough from their parents or older siblings.
Back to School
The whooping cough booster vaccine must be up to date before children and teens can head back to school. A booster shot is usually given at the 11-year doctor visit as part of the Tdap vaccine, Dr. Kowsik explained.
"Tdap is similar to the Dtap vaccine given in infancy and childhood, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis," she added. "The booster is essential as immunity from the Dtap begins to wane, which contributed to the rise in pertussis cases recently."
The meningococcal vaccine is also given at the 11-year doctor visit, with a second booster dose given at age 16. The vaccine protects against meningococcal diseases, including meningitis.
"The meningococcal vaccine is important for older teens, particularly those living in college dormitories," she said. "They are at higher risk of contracting the bacteria that the vaccine protects against."
Teens also need to get the HPV vaccine, which is often given at the 11-year doctor visit because preteens have a better immune response from the vaccine than older teens, Dr. Kowsik explained. HPV stands for Human Papilloma virus. At first the vaccine was only for girls, but now it is recommended that boys also get immunized against HPV, she said.
There are approximately 40 types of genital HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some types can cause cervical cancer in women and can also cause other kinds of cancer in both men and women. Other types can cause genital warts in both males and females.
"Immunizations are the most important preventative measure parents can take for their child's health," Dr. Kowsik added. "Vaccines are scientifically proven to prevent diseases that have caused so much harm and pain to children throughout the years. For the temporary pinch of a vaccine needle, children are granted years of protection from deadly diseases. It is our duty as pediatricians to care for our patients, and immunizing is one of the best ways of doing so."
For an easy-to-read schedule of required vaccinations, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html.
If you don't have a regular pediatrician, you can find out where to get your child vaccinated by calling Washington Hospital's Health Connection hotline at (800) 963-7070. For information about other programs and services at Washington Hospital that can help you stay healthy, visit www.whhs.com.