Back-to-School Preparations Should Include Immunization

By State Senator Julie Lassa

 With the start of the new school year just around the corner, most parents have a list of preparations to get through – registrations, fees, new clothes and supplies, and so on.  That list should also include making sure your children are up to date with their vaccinations.  August is National Immunization Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to review the importance of sending kids back to school with the immunization protection they need.

Schools and day care centers may be good places to learn, but they are also places that can make kids more susceptible to contagious diseases.   For example, six children and an adult at a day care center in Illinois came down with measles last winter; all of them were unvaccinated. Besides being in close contact with lots of their peers, kids at school aren’t always careful about washing their hands and covering their coughs.   When children aren’t vaccinated, it puts them at greater risk of catching contagious diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough and rubella, and passing them on to other kids.  All of these common childhood diseases can be very dangerous, especially to babies who are too young to be vaccinated, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems.

We often tend to think that widespread vaccination has wiped out these diseases, but the threat is very real.  For example, in the first half of this year alone, 178 people in the United States were reported to have measles.  Here in Wisconsin in recent years we have seen epidemic-level breakouts of whooping cough, as well as clusters of measles and mumps cases.  And every year we seem to hear another story or two of a college student contracting meningitis.  That’s why most day care centers, school districts and colleges require students to be up-to-date on their vaccinations.   Checking your child’s immunization schedule and scheduling them to receive any vaccines they need now will help avoid a last-minute rush before school starts or an unpleasant surprise on the first day of classes.

Even if your kids had all their “shots” when they were little, it’s wise to contact your family doctor or pediatrician to find out if additional immunization or “booster shots” are recommended.   Some childhood vaccines wear off over time, so teenagers might need to renew their immunization for diseases like tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough.  Older children can become more susceptible to diseases like meningitis, septicemia, or cancers related to human papilloma virus (HPV).

And while you’re checking out your children’s immunizations, you might want to look into your own as well.  Adults can also become sick as the result of diseases that vaccines can prevent, and some vaccination recommendations have changed over the years.  For example, before the mid-1980s, only one lifetime dose of measles vaccine was recommended; now doctors recommend two doses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.cdc.gov/vaccines) is a good source of information about National Immunization Awareness month and the importance of vaccination to protect yourself and your loved ones, and to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases.