What parents need to know about Back-to-School immunizations

childhood vaccinations

COVID-19 has caused many children to miss one or more vaccines due to healthcare practice delays, so parents will want to make sure their little ones have all their required immunizations at the start of the new school year. When our children get vaccinated, it not only provides them safety from developing a serious contagious illness, thus reducing the likelihood of a lengthy absence, it also protects their parents and grandparents, and allows them to visit relatives throughout the fall and holiday seasons.

Remember that it takes 2-3 weeks for vaccines to provide children and young adults full immunity. Getting vaccinations now helps our children stay safe during the school year.

Here are important vaccination reminders for parents as their kids head back-to-school:

1. The COVID-19 Vaccines

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is here to stay, albeit at a much lower level across the country. The best way to safeguard children against COVID-19 is to get them vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are now available for all children 6 months and older. More than 10 million adolescents have received a COVID-19 vaccine, with good results and an excellent safety profile. Younger children have been receiving a COVID-19 vaccine for several months with a similarly excellent response.

2. DPT Vaccine

For many decades, the DPT vaccine has been a mainstay in protecting our children against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus. The DPT vaccine is given to children in five doses: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years of age. The toxins associated with diphtheria can make it difficult to breathe and swallow, and can also attack the heart, kidneys, and nerves. The incidence of diptheria has dropped significantly to only about two cases per year due to the vaccine. Outbreaks can occur and are usually associated with drops in vaccinations.

Tetanus is caused by bacteria that live in soil and enter the body through wounds that are not kept clean. The toxin associated with the bacteria causes a spasm that affects the throat and jaw, leading to suffocation. It’s important to vaccinate children against tetanus due to the playful and oftentimes injury-prone nature of children.

Pertussis is one of the most contagious diseases. The cough associated with pertussis can be so violent that it can cause cracked ribs, broken blood vessels, and hernias. Pneumonia and seizures can also develop. Pertussis is more common than most people realize, but with vaccinations, it can be prevented.

3. Polio Vaccine

Polio is an infection that can lead to permanent paralysis and even death. The polio vaccine has been effective in eradicating this devastating disease. The vaccine can be given along with other vaccines and comes in four doses, which need to be taken at 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months, and 4-6 years of age.

4. MMR Vaccine

MMR is a safe and effective two-dose vaccine recommended to guard against 3 viruses: measles, mumps, and rubella. In most states, you will need to provide proof that your child has been vaccinated against MMR to attend school. A child should receive the first dose between 12-15 months and the second dose between 4-6 years of age. All three diseases can be very serious, and can be avoided by receiving this vaccine.

Measles starts as a cough, runny nose, pink eye, and a pinpoint rash that spreads across the body. If it affects the lungs, it can cause pneumonia. In older children, it can lead to seizures and possibly brain damage.

Mumps cause swelling in the glands and prior to the vaccination was a common cause of brain swelling and loss of hearing. In men, the mumps can lead to infertility.

Rubella, also known as German measles, can cause swelling of the glands behind the ears, and in some cases, swelling of the joints and a fever.

Some unproven reports suggested that the MMR vaccine is linked to Autism. The CDC has reviewed this data in great detail and reports absolutely no evidence to support this suggestion. Also, dozens of studies have concluded there is no connection.

5. Hepatitis B Vaccine

Hepatitis B is a common disease in the United States and the hepatitis B vaccine provides more than 90% protection to those who receive it. The hepatitis B vaccine protects people of all ages from hepatitis B and is recommended for all children or adolescents younger than 19 years of age who have not been vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine is given in a series of three shots: the first dose at birth, the second two months later, and another four to six months after the second dose.

6. Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine

Chickenpox is an infectious disease causing a mild fever and rash of itchy inflamed blisters. It primarily affects children. Chickenpox can be life-threatening to anyone but is of significant concern to infants, elderly adults, and those with weakened immune systems. While most chickenpox vaccines are given at birth, the CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults. The first dose is given at 12 to 15 months, with a second dose given at four to six years old.

7. Meningococcal Vaccine

Meningococcal is a rare but very serious illness caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis that can cause meningitis, an infection of the spinal cord and brain. The meningococcal vaccine is very important to prevent children from developing a serious bacterial infection. The primary vaccine dose is given at age 11 to 12 years, with a booster dose at age 16 years. It is recommended that first-year college students living in residential housing get the vaccine if they have not had a dose since they turned 16.

Let’s head into the school year and the fall season with the best health possible!

Dr. Ronald Grifka is the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Clinical Quality Officer for University of Michigan Health-West, and a board-certified pediatric cardiologist who has pioneered cardiovascular techniques. Dr. Grifka oversees and provides leadership and medical education to more than 500 physicians at University of Michigan Health-West and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Cardiology, and the Society of Cardiac Angiography and Intervention.