A recent topic of heated debate has arisen on whether to vaccinate your children or not. From celebrities to political figures to scientists to other parents at your child’s school, everyone seems to have an opinion. While discussion is a healthy aspect of health care, most medical experts still agree that it is best to have your children vaccinated, not only for their wellbeing but the wellbeing of other children around them as well.
Routine vaccines have saved countless lives and keep the population healthier. We live in a world where travel to and from other countries is common, and this travel increases the risk of exposure to diseases. In some rural areas, where modern healthcare systems are virtually non-existent, serious diseases are much more likely to be found in children who did not have access to vaccinations.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children, and teens from 16 potentially harmful diseases. The thing that parents need to be reminded of is that it really wasn’t that long ago that these diseases were once common causes of death among children. Vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio or measles can be very serious, may require hospitalization, or even cause death in infants and young children.
Thinking ahead to your child’s years in school, educators must consider the health and safety of all children. Whether your child goes to public or private school or is homeschooled, they are going to come in contact with other kids in the classroom, library, or on field trips. Because kids spend so much time with each other in their school years, it becomes all the more crucial that all children be vaccinated to prevent the spread of serious diseases.
Most schools mandate that parents bring in a chart signed by a healthcare provider that shows proof of their child’s vaccinations. Typically this is before a child is even allowed to register for kindergarten. The safety of all school children is the reason for this requirement.
How Do They Work?
Vaccines work by turning on the body’s natural defenses, also known as the immune system. Scientists have learned over the years that by giving children vaccinations, in the active or inactive form, the child will develop immunity to those specific diseases. Typically, the vaccinations are given by injection, but sometimes they are given orally as a dose of medicine.
Not all microorganisms, those little tiny creatures that live in our intestines and other places in the body, are bad. In fact, our bodies have many microorganisms that are beneficial and essential for good health. On the other hand, there are some microorganisms such as bacteria or viruses that cause diseases. These are the ones that we want to protect children from.
When bacteria or viruses invade the body and multiply, the child is considered “infected” by that microorganism. This infection is what causes illness. The illness is the pathology and symptoms that occur due to the infection.
In a healthy body, the immune system will fight the infection. Once the infection is defeated, the body is left with a supply of immune cells that help recognize and fight that disease in the future.
Vaccines stimulate the immune system to develop this fighting response by giving the child either a small dose of the infection in weaker form (active immunity) or by giving the child the cells that can fight the infection (passive immunity).
Sometimes after getting a vaccine, the medicines can cause minor symptoms, such as fever or a mild rash. Such symptoms are expected and common, and some parents even welcome them since it’s a good sign that the vaccination is doing what it is designed to do. It is the normal response of the child’s body as it builds immunity. It should be noted that if the symptoms are extreme or prolonged, then the attention of the healthcare provider is needed immediately.
Some of the most common vaccinations for children include:
- Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis
- Hepatitis A and B
- Human papillomavirus
- Influenza (flu)
- Measles, mumps, rubella
As children get older, they require additional doses of some vaccines for best protection. This is known as a “booster.” Older kids also need to be protected against additional diseases they may encounter.
Vaccinations for Teenagers
Boys and girls should get the following vaccines at the age of 11 or 12 years:
- HPV vaccine
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects the body against HPV infections that cause cancer. All boys and girls should finish the HPV vaccine series before they are13 years old.
- Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine
This protects against some of the bacteria that can cause infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia). These illnesses can be very serious, even fatal. The first dose should be given at 11-12 years of age, and a booster dose at 16 years of age.
- Tdap vaccine
Tdap vaccine provides a booster to continue protection from childhood against three serious diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (also called whooping cough). TDAP will last for 10 years.
How Much Do Vaccines Cost?
The cost for vaccines for children will vary depending on where you get them. Good healthcare insurance programs all pay for vaccines for kids. For parents who cannot pay for vaccines, there is a program known as Vaccines For Children (VFC). VFC is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of an inability to pay. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention buys vaccines at a discount and distributes them to state health departments. To find out if you qualify, call your local health care department and ask them if they participate in the VFC program.
Flu vaccine for kids, teens, and adults
According to the Mayo Clinic, flu vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, including young children, pregnant women, and adults over 65 years of age.
Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of the flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, to be fully protected. Sometimes these vaccinations are offered in schools, and during school hours, which saves a trip to the doctor’s office or the clinic.
Although flu shots are offered for people of almost any age, there are some medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, or immunodeficiency, that can make getting the flu a lot worse for a person. Your healthcare provider will advise you about getting the flu vaccine if you or your child has a chronic medical condition.
Preteens and teens, as well as adults, should get a flu vaccine every year’ if possible, by the end of October, which is prior to flu season. The flu vaccine for each year will typically come out in late August or early September, and once taken is good for about 6 months.
Remember that your healthcare professional is your best resource for information about vaccines. He or she will advise you on all the vaccines your child needs, as well as a schedule for when to get them.