Vaccinations protect children from contracting dangerous diseases that can cause short-term and long-term health problems. Many states require students to receive certain vaccines before they attend school.
It is very easy to spread contagious conditions in an environment such as a school, where many young people occupy the same building throughout the week. Vaccinating your child provides a strong barrier that can help prevent illnesses from spreading.
If your child is preparing for his or her first day of school, you should know about the recommended and required vaccinations. Make an appointment with a pediatrician as soon as possible if you think your child may be missing any of their vaccines.
How Vaccines Work
Medical scientists make a wide range of vaccines that protect people against specific types of diseases. Most vaccines, however, will improve immunity to diseases by increasing the presence of antibodies and T-lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the body.
Vaccines essentially teach the body how to respond to certain illnesses, including viruses and bacteria. When your child encounters these contagions in the real world, their bodies will know how to eliminate the problems before they cause negative health consequences.
Vaccinations for Kindergarten Students
Kids usually begin kindergarten when they are five or six years old. Before beginning elementary school, children should receive the following vaccinations:
- DTaP that protects them from diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (whooping cough).
- IPV that prevents the spread of polio.
- MMR that prevents measles, mumps, and rubella.
- VAR that protects children from varicella (chickenpox).
- Hepatitis B to prevent infections that can cause liver damage and cancer.
Some parents may think they don’t need to worry about vaccines for diseases like polio because they don’t hear reports about modern outbreaks. No cases of polio have originated in the United States since 1979. However, travelers coming from other countries may carry the polio virus. Children who do not receive the polio vaccine have a risk of contracting the disease. Polio can cause symptoms like:
- Severe muscle weakness
- Severe muscle pain
- Paralysis of one or more limbs
- Paralysis that affects one side of the body
- Loss of reflexes
- Muscle atrophy
- Cognitive problems like poor concentration
- Sleep apnea
- Mood swings
Considering the severity of these symptoms, it makes sense for children to receive the polio vaccination.
Vaccinations for Middle School Students
As pre-teens prepare to start middle school, they should receive a Tdap booster shot that keeps them protected from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
Students entering middle school should also receive a meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Meningitis causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord. Common symptoms include:
- Stiff neck
- Vomiting and nausea
- Light sensitivity
Middle school students should also receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The CDC recommends vaccinating all girls and boys who are 11 or 12 years old against HPV. The HPV vaccination series can be administered to children as young as nine years old. Without the HPV vaccine, they could later contract a sexually transmitted disease that already affects about 14 million people. The HPV vaccine is designed to prevent infections that can lead to serious diseases, such as:
- Cervical cancer
- Vulvar cancer
- Penile cancer
- Throat cancer
- Anal cancer
- Genital warts
Although few schools require students to get the HPV vaccine, parents should take the vaccine seriously to prevent lifelong health challenges.
Vaccines for High School Students
By the time students reach high school, most of them have received the vaccines needed to keep them safe. The CDC recommends that students receive a second dose of the meningitis vaccine at age 16.
High school students who have not received the HPV vaccine still have a chance to get the treatment. According to the CDC, the HPV vaccine is most effective for young women through the age of 26, and for young men up until age 21. Regardless, it makes sense for students to get the vaccine as soon as possible so they will be protected against this preventable STD, once they become sexually active.
Annual Influenza Vaccines
Most vaccine schedules only require a few doses administered over several years. However, students should receive the flu vaccine every year, preferably before the end of October.
Medical researchers have developed several types of flu vaccines. The most popular option, a trivalent vaccine, protects against three types of flu viruses. Students can also get a quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four types of flu viruses.
The flu may not seem like a major illness to some people, but up to 710,000 patients in the U.S. are hospitalized each year due to flu-related symptoms. The flu virus kills between 12,000 and 56,000 people per year in the U.S.
While most children have strong immune systems that can fight influenza, it is impossible to predict how someone will respond to the virus. Otherwise healthy people can become seriously ill after exposure to the flu. Receiving an annual flu vaccine significantly reduces the risk of contracting influenza.
Other Vaccines Your Child May Need
Several factors can affect whether your child needs additional vaccines before the school year begins. If your family has recently traveled abroad, or if you are planning a foreign trip in the near future, your children may need additional vaccines to protect them from illnesses that may be present in your destination. Certain health conditions can also increase the need for additional vaccinations.
If you have any questions about which vaccines your child should receive, talk to their pediatrician so you can get information that pertains specifically to them. Doctors should be able to offer advice that will help you make the right decisions to keep your children healthy.