By Shannon Scott, D.O., FACOFP

Back-to-school time is an active period as families prepare for new experiences and adventures including new schools, friends and teachers. While preparing for the new environments, it is important to get children vaccinated to protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases and illnesses.

Each year, Arizona residents face outbreaks of preventable illnesses including influenza (flu), measles, whooping cough, hepatitis, varicella (chickenpox), pneumonia, and human papilloma virus (HPV). Vaccines not only provide protection for your child, but also protect our community by keeping infections out. People who work regularly with kids should also get vaccinated, including teachers, coaches, and before- and after-school caregivers.

Recently, there has been much discussion about the safety and side effects of vaccines. Instead of randomly searching websites for vaccine information, parents should discuss concerns with their healthcare provider to better separate the facts from the myths. Healthcare providers can also identify those people that should not get some of the vaccines or who should wait to get them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an additional resource for up-to-date vaccine information. According to the CDC, many steps are taken to ensure safety before vaccines can be approved for use. This process can take 10 years or longer. Even after a vaccine is in use, both the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitor adverse events.
According to the CDC’s website, “any hint of a problem with a vaccine prompts further investigations by the CDC and FDA. If researchers find a vaccine may be causing a side effect, the CDC and

FDA will initiate appropriate action that may include the changing of vaccine labels or packaging, distributing safety alerts, inspecting manufacturers’ facilities and records, withdrawing recommendations for the use of the vaccine, or revoking the vaccine’s license.”

Different vaccines are needed at different ages:

• Newborns through six years of age – pneumonia; hepatitis A and B; chickenpox; haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP); polio; rotavirus; measles; mumps; rubella; and flu

• Seven through 18 years of age – three vaccines at age 11-12 are recommended, including HPV, tetanus and pertussis (Tdap), and meningococcal (MCV)

The HPV vaccine, recommended for boys and girls, can prevent a cancer that is now found in adults that were exposed to the virus at a younger age. The Tdap booster is recommended to increase your child’s immunity against tetanus and whooping cough because the childhood DTaP vaccine strength can fade. The MCV vaccine can prevent a potentially life- threatening disease known as meningitis, and can involve inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain. Exposure is common in the teenage years.

Almost everyone who is at least six months of age and older should get a flu shot annually. Flu is a contagious disease that spreads easily by people coughing and sneezing, usually between October and May of each year. While anyone can get the flu, the risk of getting flu is highest among kids and the elderly.

According to the CDC, the flu can make some people much sicker than others. These people include young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions, such as heart, lung or kidney disease, nervous system disorders, or a weakened immune system. Each year thousands of people in the United States die from flu, and many more are hospitalized.

If your child misses any of the vaccines, talk to your healthcare provider about how to catch up. A Catch-up Immunization Scheduler, developed by the CDC and Georgia Tech, is available at www.vacscheduler.org. Also, don’t forget to provide schools with a copy of your child’s updated immunization record. More information about vaccines and immunization schedules can be found at: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents.

The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment. Always consult your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding any possible medical condition.

Dr. Shannon Scott is board-certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians (AOBFP) and the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). She joined Midwestern University in 2008 after completing a family medicine residency at Scottsdale Healthcare (now HonorHealth).

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