You may have put off many things during the COVID-19 pandemic. But making time for proactive measures such as well checks and pediatric immunizations can have long-lasting health impacts on your child.
Corin Marshall, MD, pediatrician at Franciscan Physician Network Heartland Crossing Pediatrics in Mooresville, recently discussed the importance of vaccines with WCBK radio.
What Do Vaccines Do?
Vaccines help prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases, allowing people of all ages live longer, healthier lives. Immunization currently prevents 2-3 million deaths every year from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles.
“Vaccines are meant to protect,” Dr. Marshall said. “They're important because they prevent diseases that can be harmful to your child. Sometimes these diseases can result in serious complications, or even hospitalizations.
“So, a lot of these things you think, ‘I've never heard of anyone having that.’ Or, ‘That's so rare. No one gets that anymore.’ That's because we've been consistently giving vaccines.”
Vaccines are key to preventing disease. Vaccines benefit both the people who get them and the vulnerable, unvaccinated people around them. That's because the infection can no longer spread through the community if most people are immunized. To offer the widest protection against a certain disease such as measles or diphtheria, at least 90% of children should be vaccinated. If 9 in 10 children are vaccinated, the disease cannot spread far even if someone not vaccinated gets it. This is sometimes called "community" or "herd" immunity. This means unvaccinated people are protected by the great number of others immune to the illness.
Plus, vaccines reduce the number of deaths and disability from infections like measles, whooping cough and chickenpox.
Can Every Child Be Vaccinated?
“There are cases where certain children cannot receive vaccinations,” Dr. Marshall said. “For example, children who are immunocompromised, like those that are getting chemotherapy or kids that have certain immune deficiencies. They are not able to get some of the vaccines, the live virus vaccines: so, the measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox. Then, some kids have anaphylactic reactions to some vaccines, so they can't get more doses of them.”
Will My Child Get The Disease If You Get The Vaccine?
“No, you can't actually get the disease that the vaccine is treating. It's an inactivated form of the disease that you get as an injection,” Dr. Marshall said. “Then that form of the disease helps you develop antibodies, so that if your body does see that disease in the future, then it will have what it needs to fight it off.”
Should I Be Worried About Reactions To Vaccines?
As with any medicine, vaccines may cause reactions. They often may cause a sore arm or low-grade fever. Serious reactions are rare. But they can happen. Your child's healthcare provider or nurse may discuss these with you before giving the shots.
The risks for getting the diseases the shots protect against are higher than the risks for having a reaction to the vaccine.
You can help ease these mild reactions in children:
- Fussiness. Children may need extra love and care after getting immunized. The shots that keep them from getting serious diseases can also cause discomfort for a while. Children may experience fussiness, fever, and pain at the injection site, after they have been immunized.
- Fever. Do not give aspirin. You may want to give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce pain and fever, as directed by your child's healthcare provider. Also:
- Give your child plenty to drink.
- Clothe your child lightly. Do not cover or wrap your child tightly.
- Sponge your child in a few inches of lukewarm (not cold) bath water.
- Swelling or pain. Do not give aspirin. You may want to give your child acetaminophen to reduce pain and fever, as directed by your child's healthcare provider. Apply a clean, cool washcloth over the sore area as needed for comfort.
When Do My Children Need Their Vaccinations?
Most of your child’s vaccines are completed between birth and age 6. Many vaccines are given more than once, at different ages, and in combinations. This means that you’ll need to keep a careful record of your child's shots if you receive vaccines from multiple places, such as if you’ve moved states or switched doctors.
Ask your child's healthcare provider for an immunization record form. Think about your child's record as you would a birth certificate. Keep it with your other essential documents.
Most parents and healthcare providers do a good job of keeping up with immunizations. Yet studies show that about one-fourth of preschool children are missing at least one routine vaccine. Most states will not let your child start school without a complete vaccine record. Sometimes a vaccine is missed when a child is sick. No matter what the reason, it’s important to make up missed immunizations.
If your child has missed an immunization, you don't have to go back and start over for most vaccines. The previous vaccines are still good. Your healthcare provider will just resume the vaccine schedule.
“Most of the shots that kids get, they get in the first about two years of life, so that's why if you have a child you know you have to keep coming back every couple of months for more visits,” Dr. Marshall said. “That's so we can monitor their growth and development, but also so that they can get shots.”
Flu vaccines, which are based on the virus strains predicted to be in highest circulation, are recommended each fall. Children can begin receiving flu vaccines at six months old.
“By the time your child gets to kindergarten, they will have been vaccinated against a whole list of diseases, like hepatitis A and B; diptheria; tetanus; pertussis; H. flu, which is not the flu virus, it's a different kind of bacteria. Also, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, lots of things,” Dr. Marshall said. “But after you get to kindergarten, you don't get shots again, other than flu shots, until sixth grade.”
For current school immunization requirements, visit the Indiana State Department of Health website or Illinois Department of Health website.
Vaccinations for tweens and teens
Vaccinations are not just for younger children, tweens and teens need to stay updated on their vaccinations as well.
According to the CDC, at 11 to 12 years old, your preteen should receive vaccines to protect them from the following diseases:
- Meningococcal disease (MenACWY) (one dose)
- HPV (two doses)
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis) (Tdap) (one dose)
- Influenza (Flu) (every year)
From the ages of 13-18 years old, your child should receive:
- Influenza (Flu) (every year)
- Meningococcal disease
- Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) given at 16 years old (2nd dose)
- Serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) may be given, preferably at 16 through 18 years (2 doses)
Be sure to speak with your child's primary care physician about their immunization schedule, discuss any concerns about vaccinations, track your child's vaccinations and keep them up to date\ Your actions could help save lives.
What Happens If My Child Isn’t Vaccinated At An Early Age?
“Most of the vaccines are ones that you can catch up on later down the line,” Dr. Marshall said. “If you are thinking, ‘Oh, goodness, I totally forgot to get these vaccines and now the school's requiring them,’ we have adjusted schedules where we can catch your child up.”
“There are a couple vaccines, that once you age out of them you can't go back and get them anymore, so that's why it's important to always be coming in to all those visits before age two,” Dr. Marshall said. “But most of them you can catch up later.”
How Does COVID-19 Affect My Child’s Vaccinations?
According to the New York Times, critical childhood vaccinations for hepatitis, measles, whooping cough and other diseases declined significantly during the pandemic, a trend that had already begun to worry pediatricians earlier in the pandemic. Of concern, measles vaccinations fell 73 percent in mid-April and were still down 36 percent at the end of June.
“It's especially important right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that people continue to bring their kids in for vaccines, because we don't want any of these vaccine-preventable illnesses to come back because of COVID,” Dr. Marshall said. “So, we still want everyone to come in, and we're putting a lot of safety procedures in place so that kids are safe and can come in and get the vaccines.”