What you need to know to keep your children healthy
During the coronavirus pandemic, many parents have been advised to postpone routine and elective visits for their children to avoid a trip to the doctor’s office. But doctors agree that keeping up with your child’s vaccine schedule is not something to postpone. The protection is needed now more than ever to avoid illness outbreaks that can weaken immune systems and overwhelm healthcare systems. Fortunately, the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) provides evidence-based guidance on vaccinations from infants to adults (link to adult immunization blog). For children ages 7 to 18, the recommendations are straight-forward—but ask your doctor if you’re not sure what your child needs.
Just like adults, children should receive an annual flu vaccine. It is safe and indicated for children as young as 6 months. This year’s flu vaccine will be especially important as the healthcare system continues to navigate coronavirus. Additionally, researchers have discovered a small number of patients have contracted both the flu and covid-19, putting those patients at greater risk for severe infection and complications. Flu season typically runs from October – March, so getting your flu shots (for you and your children) in late September to mid- October is best (at least before Halloween). It won’t provide 100% protection, but in most years, it can reduce the risk of contracting the flu by 40 – 60%, and those who do still get sick tend to have much milder symptoms.
Recommendation for a pre-teen’s diptheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (also known as whooping cough) vaccine – or Tdap vaccine—is between ages 11 and 12. It is now required by many school systems before entering the 7th grade. (Babies receive DTaP – diptheria and tetanus protection—in a series of three shots at 2, 4 and 6 months, then boosters at 15-18 months and at 4 – 6 years.) Teens who didn’t get a Tdap as a pre-teen should receive a Tdap as soon as possible and definitely before living in a group situation, like college dorms and military. Adults who never received a Tdap should also get one, which can be given at any time, regardless of when they received their last Td. Then, adults should get a Tdap every ten years. It is also recommended that women get a Tdap vaccine during the early part of the third trimester of every pregnancy to help protect the baby after birth.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease—it is estimated that nearly everyone will be infected with some strain of HPV in their lifetime. Most of the time, infections clear up on their own and do not cause cancer. However, at least a dozen types of HPV can lead to one of six different types of cancers, including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal and head and neck cancers. The CDC recommends that boys and girls around age 11 or 12 get vaccinated. The vaccine is a series, which means it given over multiple doses. For boys and girls under the age of 15, it’s given over two doses six months apart. For those age 15 and older, they are given three doses: the second shot is administered 1-2 months after the initial vaccine and the third dose is given six months after the first shot.
The CDC also recommends that all individuals under the age of 26 get vaccinated with a “catch-up” vaccine. And recently, those guidelines have shifted to encourage men and women age 45 and younger to receive the HPV vaccine.
Meningitis is a serious, potentially life-threatening bacterial infection causing inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The meningitis vaccine is recommended routinely for people aged ten to 25, and new findings also show it to be useful for older adults and others at high risk for infection including people with cochlear implants, sickle cell anemia, absent spleen. Adolescents need to receive an initial meningococcal vaccine at about age 13. A second meningitis vaccine should be administered at the start of college or around age 16. This vaccine series is also now required by many school districts before starting 7th and 12th grades.
Keep your family healthy and protected by ensuring all vaccinations are up to date. Talk with your healthcare provider to see what your family needs.