With school back in session, it's a good time to make sure your children's immunization records are up to date.
Children entering a Head Start, Early Start, pre-school or kindergarten require two doses of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine by age 4 and booster doses of the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccine and polio vaccine by age 5. A second dose of the varicella vaccine, which protects against chicken pox, is highly recommended, although not required. Many vaccines are required for infants and young children in order to attend a licensed daycare or pre-school as well.
Middle school entrants must have a dose of a tetanus-toxoid-containing vaccine within five years prior to entry. The Tdap vaccine is recommended, as it also extends protection from pertussis (whooping cough), which is growing more common in both children and adults because of waning immunity. Details on required immunizations can be found at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Web site, http://www.chfs.ky.gov/.
Other vaccines that are recommended for middle-school-age children are the meningococcal vaccine, a second dose of varicella vaccine (if not previously received), and, for girls, the HPV vaccine, which greatly reduces their lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer. Every child age 6 months through 19 years should receive a yearly influenza vaccine dose. These are covered by almost all health insurance plans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has hailed immunization as one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century. Two ovewhelming success stories bring this point home: First, vaccine use eradicated the deadly plague of smallpox worldwide – so completely that the smallpox vaccine is no longer routinely given. Second, vaccine use has eliminated polio, which once crippled thousands of children, from the entire continent of North America.
Many other diseases have been greatly reduced in incidence by immunization – including measles, mumps, meningitis, diphtheria, rubella and pertussis. Despite the safe and effective protection available from vaccines, some people in the United States continue to suffer and die from these and other vaccine-preventable disease, mostly because they do not receive the recommended vaccinations.
Much research has been performed over the past decade to dispel speculation linking vaccines to autism. Despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, some parents are still concerned. Much of this concern has focused on thimerosal, a mercury compound once widely used as a vaccine preservative. However, since 2001, all vaccines recommended for children 6 and younger (with the exception of some flu vaccine formulations) have contained either no thimerosal or only trace amounts. Further information can be found on the Food and Drug Administration's Web site at www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines.
By staying up-to-date on recommended vaccines, individuals can protect themselves, their families, and their communities from serious, life-threatening infections.
Dr. Grace Maguire is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and a pediatrician at Kentucky Children's Hospital.