Back to School Checklist: Vaccinations
Karla Robinson, MD
Preparing the kids to go back to school can be a time of great anticipation for all that the new academic year will bring, and it can also be a time of great anxiety while trying to get last minute physicals and immunizations up to date. Although wrought with controversy over the last several years, childhood vaccines remain one of the safest, effective, and most valuable means of disease control and prevention in the United States.
While each state may have specific vaccine requirements for admission to school, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues the annual guidelines for physicians and parents to follow each year. Save time this summer by familiarizing yourself with the recommended vaccines your children will need to stay in compliance for the upcoming school year.
If your child will be entering Kindergarten this fall, it is likely that your child will need to finish some vaccine series that were started as an infant. The DTaP, IPV, MMR, and Varicella are the vaccines that are typically required prior to enrolling in elementary school for the first time.
DTaP: This vaccine protects against pertussis (whooping cough) and diphtheria, both respiratory illnesses, and tetanus a disease that attacks the nerves and muscles.
IPV: This vaccine protects against polio, a disease that can lead to paralysis and in severe cases death.
MMR: This vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Measles is a disease that is often known by its red rash, but it can also lead to life-threatening complications such as brain inflammation and pneumonia. Mumps is an infection with characteristic swelling of the glands of the jaw and can also lead to brain infection, inflammation of the testicles, or deafness. Rubella is an infection that may cause a fever and rash in children, but has devastating effects on pregnant women. If exposed to this virus, pregnant women may experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or a baby born with birth defects.
Varicella: Protective against chickenpox, the second dose of this vaccine is also recommended before entering school. Chickenpox is a viral infection leading to fever, headache, and itchy fluid-filled blisters. Serious complications include brain swelling, and pneumonia.
If you have a child transitioning to middle school or junior high, you will likely have to update their immunizations also. This is a common time for “booster” vaccines to be given, and also to start new vaccine series that are started in adolescence. Tdap, HPV, and MCV are usually recommended at this time, although not having the HPV and MCV vaccines won’t generally prevent admission to school. It is important to review your school district’s vaccination requirements, as they do vary.
Tdap: This vaccine also protects against pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus. It is a “booster” vaccine that boosts the immunity received from the infant and early childhood DTaP vaccine. This booster vaccine is needed every 10 years hereafter, and should continue into adulthood.
HPV: This is a vaccine protecting against the human papillomavirus. The human papillomavirus is the leading cause of genital warts, and cervical cancer. It is approved to be administered to boys beginning at age 9, and girls beginning at age 11.
MCV: This vaccine protects against meningococcal diseases. These include illnesses such as meningitis, and blood infections. Serious infections can be deadly, with some survivors left severely disabled.
For those children that may have started vaccinations behind schedule or in whom lots of time has elapsed since the last vaccine was given, there are “catch-up” schedules to get those children back on track. Discuss a plan with your physician on how to get your child in compliance for the upcoming school year.