Vaccinating school-age children may not only protect them from deadly diseases but also the entire family, experts say
"Children from kindergarten to 18 years-old are the disease spreaders, but not necessarily the ones that will become hospitalized or die from diseases," said Dr. Carol Baker, professor of pediatrics - infectious disease and of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.
"They may impact the rest of the family very seriously," Dr. Baker said in a statement.
While flu is one of the more common threats, there are other serious diseases children and their families should be protected from, including whooping cough (pertussis), measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis.
Children may come home and spread the diseases to family members who may be more vulnerable to develop serious complications from the diseases or even die, Dr. Baker said.
That could include younger (age 5 and under) brothers and sisters who are not old enough to be fully vaccinated, pregnant moms, elderly grandparents or immunocompromised family members who have illnesses such as cancer or diabetes.
Children under 2 are at a greater risk of being hospitalized or even dying from these diseases, Dr. Baker said.
From 2 to 5 years of age, children are at an increased risk of illness. "This means time off of work for a parent and more trips to the doctors," she said.
Another major concern is the pregnant mom. "A pregnant woman will get sicker and could potentially lose her baby if she gets influenza," Dr. Baker said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the most up-to-date schedule for all recommended vaccines adults and children of all ages, she said
To view the schedule, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-18yrs-11x17-fold-pr.pdf.
There is also a resource to create a personalized schedule for your child, she said. That resource is at www2a.cdc.gov/nip/kidstuff/newscheduler_le/.
Dr. Baker said important reminders include:
- Everyone 6-months and older should have a flu vaccine annually. If the vaccine is available before the start of school, it's not too early to go ahead and have your child vaccinated. She recommended calling your pediatrician's office to check. Pharmacies are also a convenient and safe place to get vaccinated if the child is older.
- Children ages 4 to 6 should have the DTaP vaccine (Diphtheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis). Before kindergarten is a great time to get this, Dr. Baker said. A booster will be needed later. They should also be fully vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, she said. That means two doses before school starts, one at 15-18 months and another at 4-6 years.
- All children between the ages of 11 and 12 should receive the meningococcal and Tdap vaccines, Baker said. Before going to college, a booster also is needed if the student is under the age of 30.
- The human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine is recommended in boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12. "A lot of these children are not developmentally ready to talk about sex," she said. "Many parents are fully in charge of their child's health care at this point, so this is an optimal time to go ahead and have the child receive all three doses of this vaccine."
- Multiple vaccines can be given at the same visit and still be safe and effective, Dr. Baker said. "Every time a vaccine is added as a recommendation, research is always conducted to make sure that each vaccine component protects against disease."
"Parents have to protect their children and the loved ones around them," said Dr. Baker. "With vaccines, we can provide the best protection against serious and fatal diseases."
Dr. Baker also reminds parents to consult their child's pediatrician regarding any questions and concerns about vaccinations.