If you have children going back to school this month, you’ll want to make sure they are up-to-date on any immunizations their school requires.
Vaccines are given to children to help prevent diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, chicken pox, polio and measles, but also pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea – two of the biggest killers in children younger than 5. For adolescents and adults, vaccines are available to prevent influenza and meningitis, as well as cervical and liver cancer.
Dr. James Min of Novant Health UVA Health System Bull Run Family Medicine in Haymarket, Virginia, shed light on what vaccines are required or recommended for those in school:
- Kindergarten – tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (Tdap), polio, measles/mumps/rubella and chicken pox vaccines are required.
- Middle school – Tdap booster is required; Human papillomavirus vaccine and meningitis vaccine are recommended.
- High school – meningitis vaccine booster is recommended for those ages 16 to 18.
- College – meningitis vaccine is required if not already received.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe vaccines as containing “the same germs that cause the disease, but the germs have been either killed or weakened to the point that they don’t make you sick.” Vaccines help the immune system build up resistance to dangerous diseases.
Vaccine requirement changes in North Carolina
This year, the North Carolina immunization law changed for kindergartners and seventh-graders. Kindergarteners will now need two doses of the chicken pox vaccine if they haven’t had a history of the disease documented by their doctor. They will also need the fourth dose of the polio vaccine between their fourth birthday and beginning school.
Seventh graders are now required to get one dose of Tdap and one dose of the meningitis vaccine if they haven’t previously received them. If your sixth-grader received a required Tdap shot before the 2014-15 school year, they won’t need another one this year, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
‘Herd immunity’ helps all
Vaccines are effective 90 to 100 percent of the time. However, some children are not able to get vaccines for certain medical reasons, or because they are too young to be vaccinated. This leaves children without protection, therefore having to rely on “herd immunity.” The CDC describes herd immunity as “even if one child gets sick, the disease will probably not spread because it has nowhere to go. If the sick child comes in contact only with children who are immune, the disease will die out.”
According to Min, vaccines are one of the most proven things we have in medicine in terms of safety and efficacy.
“I have no concerns with vaccines,” Min said. “Unfortunately, people, especially in the United States, are afraid of vaccines because of what they’ve read on the Internet.”
For more information about vaccines for children, check out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's guide for parents and caregivers.