Check Vaccination Records Before Students Head Back to School
This month I’ve been consumed with back-to-school preparations. With one child headed to college, two in high school, one in middle school and another in elementary school, our family preparations include everything from crayons to college course books. In addition to purchasing school supplies, replacing worn out sneakers, and hunting for the perfect backpack, we’ve also had to fit in yearly physicals so that the kids can participate in school sports. This has provided me with an opportunity to discuss my child’s immunization records with their doctor, but even if your child isn’t scheduled for a physical anytime soon, reviewing your child’s immunization records are an essential part of the back-to-school preparations.
Even the most diligent parent – who has every intention of vaccinating their child according to the CDC’s recommended schedule – may find that a shot was overlooked due to a missed appointment, previous illness or changes in the vaccine recommendations.
That is why comparing your child’s immunization record against the CDC’s recommended schedule (available here) is good idea. Here are a few steps you can take today:
1. Find out what is recommended by the CDC and required by your state.
First, it’s important to keep in mind that while the CDC provides a comprehensive list of recommended vaccines (accessible here), each state has their own immunization policies (detailed here). It’s a good idea to discuss your state’s school immunization requirements with your child’s doctor, school and/or local health department.
2. Take a look at your child’s own immunization records.
By reviewing your child’s records now, you could potentially avoid any last minute surprises on the first day of school. If your child needs a required vaccination it can usually be arranged by scheduling a visit with your child’s physician, or stopping in at the local pharmacy, health department or immunization clinic.
3. Consider your child’s age and learn more about the specific recommended vaccines.
When reviewing your child’s immunization records, it’s helpful to acquaint yourself with the specific vaccines that are most commonly required for enrollment in most elementary, middle and high schools across the country.
Before Starting Elementary School:
There are four booster vaccines that are typically administered between the ages of 4-6 and are most commonly required before admission into Kindergarten. These include DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis), varicella (chickenpox), MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and polio.
Beginning at ages 11 or 12, students should receive three recommended vaccines. These include Tdap (which is a booster against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), meningococcal conjugate vaccine and the HPV vaccine. Most states require Tdap for middle school admission and some are beginning to add requirements for meningococcal conjugate and HPV vaccines. The shots kids get at this age are specifically intended to reduce the risk of diseases that they are most susceptible to at this particular stage of their life.
Tdap booster vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is often referred to as the 100 day cough and it’s been known to keep kids out of school and activities for weeks. The Tdap vaccine is a booster recommended at age 11 or 12 and also recommended for any teens (13 to 18 years old) who haven’t had this shot yet. Tdap vaccine is especially important for older children who will have close contact with newborn babies or infants younger than 1 year since pertussis can be very dangerous and sometimes deadly for infants. Unfortunately there have been record high cases of pertussis recently. Studies indicate that the protection tends to wear off over the course of 5-7 years, which is why it is especially important for children, and even adults, to continue to get Tdap booster vaccine throughout their lives. While some vaccinated individuals may still get pertussis, their condition is usually mild in comparison to an unvaccinated individual.
Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) is recommended for all preteens at age 11 or 12 for protection against some of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Meningitis can be very serious, even fatal. The two most severe and common illnesses caused by meningococcal disease are meningitis (an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord) and septicemia (a bloodstream infection). A second booster shot is recommended for teens at age 16 to continue providing protection when their risk for meningococcal disease is highest, and it is especially important for a teenager who plays sports, attends camp, is about to move into a college dorm or military barracks.
HPV vaccine is a life-saving vaccine that protects against cancers and other diseases caused by the human papillomavirus. HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vulva and vagina in women and cancers of the penis in men. In both women and men, HPV also causes mouth/throat cancer, anal cancer and genital warts. It’s estimated that 79 million people in the U. S., most in their teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV, with most in their teens and early 20s. Therefore, it’s best to get children to complete the three-shot HPV vaccine series at age 11 or 12, prior to their first potential exposure to help prevent HPV related cancers later in life. This is also the ideal time for vaccination based on the immune response. However, for teens who have not started the series at 11 or 12 years of age, it’s not too late to begin the HPV series and it can still be beneficial if administered as soon as possible.
By the time students enter high school they should be up-to-date on their shots, but it’s important to review their shot records since recommendations change and some pre-teen shots may have been inadvertently missed.
Because even healthy kids can get the flu, which can be serious and sometimes even deadly, all students from preschool on up to college should get the flu vaccine every year.
Influenza (flu) vaccine recommendations have been modified by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to state that nasal mist vaccine (LAIV) is the preferred influenza vaccine for healthy children age 2-8 years of age. The decision was based on studies that found that LAIV provides greater protection from four strains of influenza, and is more effective for children in this age group. When a large percentage of students are vaccinated for flu, schools can prevent severe outbreaks that lead to excessive absences and possible school closures.
As a parent to five children, I am well aware that schools, by design, are highly susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases because students spend a great deal of time in close quarters sharing everything from glue sticks to computer keyboards. Even with frequent hand washing (which time doesn’t always allow) children can easily transmit illnesses to one another as a result of uncovered coughs and dense populations.
Many a times I’ve visited my child’s school to find that there were empty soap dispensers in the bathrooms, children with severe coughs in the classrooms and children who are both intentionally and unintentionally unvaccinated. While there may be no way to isolate our children from the germs they are exposed to in public spaces, school vaccine requirements provide one more line of defense against dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases. By vaccinating our children we not only help protect them, but also their friends, our community and other family members.