It’s the time of year again where kids are covered in bug bites and the excitement of Fourth of July fireworks has worn off. The summer sun is sweltering, the air conditioning is always running, and an afternoon at the pool is all you can do to cool off. You can hear school bells in the distance which means it’s almost time to head back to school. Kids fill their backpacks with new pencils, crayons, folders, and glue sticks (even headphones and tablets these days). As they head off to school and start bringing home coughs and colds again, it’s a good time to start thinking about preventive medicine. Parents and caregivers can check the school supply list to make sure these kids are prepared for school work, but have these children been prepared health-wise with vaccines?
Worldwide, more than 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year, and half of these deaths are in children less than 5 years old. We are lucky that we live in a country where diseases like polio, diphtheria, Hib, mumps, and rubella are no longer common. While not all infections will lead to death, other lifelong complications like deafness, learning disabilities, or infertility can still occur. While many of the vaccine-preventable diseases are not in your neighborhood, they are still common in other parts of the world. It only takes one world traveler to introduce a disease into a population. We’ve seen evidence of this with the recent measles and whooping cough outbreaks.
Back-to-school is a good time to address vaccinations, as children typically receive a yearly physical in order to attend a public or private school. As kids approach middle school and high school, sports physicals tend to take place in the summer, and this is a good reminder to check on any vaccines your child may be due to receive.
Your best bet is to follow the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended vaccine schedule. By following this schedule, a child will be protected against at least 13 preventable illnesses by the time they receive their kindergarten booster shots. These are all illnesses that were once common in the U.S. and caused severe illness, disability, and death. But don’t stop there. The schedule recommends a series for teenagers – meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and HPV. Check with your physician if you have any questions about the vaccine schedule or how to catch up on any vaccines that may have been missed.
Don’t think you’re off the hook once you complete your childhood vaccine series. Adults need vaccines too. Yearly flu shots and tetanus boosters are just the beginning. Check with your doctor if you have certain health conditions like heart disease, asthma, COPD, liver disease, diabetes, alcoholism, or smoke cigarettes to find out what other vaccines you may need.
I’m reminded of stories of children who became deaf from measles, were paralyzed by polio, or contracted whooping cough and suffered for months with the disease. When was the last time you heard about someone hosting a chicken pox party? These diseases have mostly been left behind in our country’s history, although can still be a threat to our health. Help prevent these stories from happening to your loved ones. Do what you can to keep yourself and your family well with vaccines.