Many people put doctor visits on the backburner during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as we emerge into a semi-vaccinated world, it’s important for families to get their wellness back on track. Parents may have delayed care for their children, but now is the perfect time to ensure kids are up to date on their vaccinations – and not just for COVID-19.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a great time to learn more about the vaccines your child needs to stay healthy. Pediatric immunizations are essential in protecting children from diseases. Polio, measles, diphtheria, and other diseases are nearly eradicated in the United States due to vaccinations. Over the years, vaccines have saved millions of lives.
Some vaccines contain the same antigens (germs the body recognizes as “foreign invaders”) that cause disease, but in vaccines, the antigens are killed or weakened to the points where they don’t cause illness. They are, however, strong enough to make the immune system produce antibodies that lead to immunity. Vaccines are a much safer substitute for a child’s first exposure to a disease. Through vaccination, children can develop immunity without suffering from the actual disease.
Vaccines By Age
Children need vaccines and booster shots from the time they are born until they are 18 years of age. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents follow a vaccine schedule to best protect their child. If parents follow that schedule, their children will be protected from 14 potentially deadly diseases before their first two years of life, and booster shots later in childhood and adolescence act as further protection. Multiple vaccines often can be given during the same doctor visit. This means fewer trips to the doctor’s office, thereby reducing a child’s anxiety. Children will receive many of their first doses of vaccine between two months and 23 months of age, and most of their boosters at 4 to 6 years of age.
As kids reach their preteen years, parents should also vaccinate their children against human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV vaccine is considered extremely effective. The HPV vaccine is the only vaccine that protects against nine strains of HPV infection and the development of HPV-related cancers, such as cervical and penile cancer. Girls and boys should receive their first dose at age 11, though it can be administered as early as age 9. Dose two should be administered six to 12 months after the initial immunization. Adolescents who wait until age 15 or older for their first dose will need three doses of the vaccine.
Doctors usually give the HPV vaccine when administering other vaccines to preteens, including the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster and the meningitis vaccine.
Back to School
Pediatric immunizations are an excellent way to protect members of your community. Unvaccinated children can spread illness to those who are unable to be immunized, such as newborns and people with weakened immune systems.
Children also need up-to-date immunizations to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities. Below are the most commonly required vaccines:
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTap) Vaccine
- Meningococcal Conjugate (MenACWY) Vaccine
- Hepatitis B Vaccine
- Measles, Mumps, & Rubella (MMR) Vaccine
- Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib) Vaccine
- Pneumococcal (PCV) Vaccine
- Rotavirus Vaccine
- Polio (IPV) Vaccine
- Varicella (Chickenpox) Vaccine
- Hepatitis A (HAV) Vaccine
Despite efforts to educate parents about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, some parents refuse to have their children vaccinated. However, there is no reason to fear immunizations. They are safe and they save lives. Immunizations undergo extensive testing and clinical trials before they are available to the public.
Some parents express concern with vaccinating babies in the first few months of life because they fear vaccines will overwhelm their growing immune systems. In reality, early vaccinations actually provide children better protection from illnesses by programing their immune systems to respond to and protect from dangerous antigens.
In May 2021, the Food and Drug Administration expanded Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents aged 12–15 years. Even though children who contract COVID-19 tend to have mild symptoms, some children do develop more severe reactions with potential for long term symptoms. All children older than 12 should get their COVID-19 vaccine. Trials show that the vaccine is a safe and effective measure in preventing illness to the child and helps stop the spread of COVID-19.
In rare cases, children may develop myocarditis, a viral infection that leads to inflammation of the heart muscle, after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. This is an extremely rare side effect, most cases of myocarditis are mild, and patients often recover on their own. We do know that myocarditis is much more common if you contract COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from a COVID-19 infection can be much more severe than any side effects from the vaccine.
The risks of getting COVID-19—and the risks of having a poor outcome from the virus—are far higher than the chances of having a severe, life-threatening reaction to the vaccine. The vaccines are meant to protect you, your family and our community.
Tips for Entering Flu Season
It’s difficult to predict if the 2021 flu season will be worse than years past. The severity will largely be determined by how we behave as we emerge out of the pandemic. If we maintain good hand hygiene and practice social distancing when sick, there will be fewer flu cases. The best way to prevent a deadly flu season is to get the flu shot when it becomes available to you. Children as young as 6 months old should get a flu shot.
Get Back on Track
Just as we teach our kids to eat their vegetables and be physically active, we must teach them the importance of getting vaccinated. Vaccinations keep our communities healthy and safe. If you’ve been putting off getting your children vaccinated, now is the best time to get back on track. There’s no time like the present to get your child in for a primary care visit to ensure they’re reaching all their health milestones, and getting the vaccines they need to keep themselves and their communities safe.
Saleena Dakin, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. She sees patients at the Kaiser Permanente Falls Church Medical Center.
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