Pencils, notebooks and backpacks are on parents' back-to-school check lists but what about immunizations?
August is National Immunization Awareness Month and it's also the perfect time to make sure children are up to date with vaccinations. Getting vaccinated is the ideal way to keep kids healthy, said Charles Hannum, MD, a pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center.
Sticking to the routine schedule of childhood immunization is especially important because younger children are at a higher risk of getting sick and hospitalized from infectious diseases we vaccinate against, said Hannum.
"I think the most important thing is that we have vaccines available that will protect you from death, serious illness and hospitalization," said Hannum.
Many children missed checkups and vaccines over the last two years due to COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC which found that nationally there was a 1 percent drop in vaccination rates among kindergartners in the 2020-2021 school year.
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics are encouraging parents to play catch up and discuss missed vaccinations with their pediatrician. Children who are vaccinated lower their risk of contracting contagious diseases, protect other children from getting sick and reduce the spread of fast-spreading diseases like measles and whooping cough.
COVID proved that even if vaccines don't always prevent individuals from becoming ill, communities with high vaccination rates have reduced incidence of infection.
"Kids who are vaccinated are protected from getting sick or as sick and keep other kids from getting sick," said James Goodman, MD, a Lowell General Hospital-affiliated pediatrician and provider at Circle Health Pediatrics. "Herd immunity helps prevent and limit illnesses like we have seen from COVID which spread very quickly throughout schools."
Goodman, who had chicken pox as a kid before there was a vaccine, said the idea that it's not necessary to get vaccinated for diseases that don't exist anymore, is false. Polio, a disease that was eradicated in 1979, was identified in an unvaccinated New Yorker earlier this month.
"Part of the reason they were not seeing as much polio was because of the vaccine," said Goodman. "It's the vaccine that kind of led to that as opposed to the argument of not getting the vaccine. Saying 'this isn't around so I don't need the vaccine' is like saying 'I haven't been in a car wreck, so I don't need to wear a seatbelt.'"
There are 14 diseases that children are vaccinated for from birth to age 18. Goodman suggests parents check with their pediatrician or their child's school nurse to determine what vaccines are needed based on their child's age and state requirements.
Five Things to Do:
- Call your pediatrician and ask if your child is up to date
- Make an appointment to have your child vaccinated based on their age/grade level
- Ask your pediatrician if you can get on a "catch up" schedule to make up for missed immunizations
- Find out your district's policy about attending school if they are "catching up," awaiting immunization documentation or proof of exemption
- Schedule next year's well visit to keep your child healthy!