By: J. Chevont’e Alexander
“One of the BEST things that you can do for your child’s health is to make sure their immunizations are up to date!”
Alexandra M. Sims, Fourth Year Medical Student
The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Books, new school clothes and shoes, paper, pens, and even glue, but please do not forget about those immunization shots! Along with the back-to-school shopping, parents should also prepare to visit their child’s pediatrician to make sure their child’s immunizations are up-to-date before students show up for the first day of school in September, or even prepare to go back to college.
To help bring awareness to the importance of immunizations, the month of August is recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). As parents and students prepare to head back to school, this month helps to encourage everyone to protect their health by receiving immunization shots. It is important for children to receive in time for school, or they are not able to start school. However, immunizations are not just for school age children. Everyone age 6 months and older needs a seasonal flu shot every year. College students are encouraged to catch up immunizations before they move into dormitories. “It’s a great reminder to our nation that people of all ages require timely immunization to protect their health.” says the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Out of all of the immunizations, the pertussis vaccine (whooping cough) is the most important. This vaccine is delivered as a TdaP vaccine; Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis. There has been a rise in the incidence of whooping cough in the U.S. over the last couple of years. Adults can pose a threat as many are carriers without realizing they have pertussis. While children’s symptoms typically include a distinctive “whooping” outburst, which may be followed by vomiting, adults are more likely just to experience a persistent cough. So the Richmond City Health District is continuing to recommend pertussis booster shots to all adults, particularly for those who come in contact with babies. Though our primary targets are people who come in contact with children — parents, grandparents, child-care workers — TdaP is for all adults, regardless of age.
The Centers for Disease Control also particularly recommends that pregnant women get vaccinated in the third trimester or immediately postpartum. Any adult, who has not had a pertussis vaccination since childhood, should get a one-time booster. In Virginia, the free vaccine for adults, funded by a grant, will continue while supplies are available. All school-required vaccines, such as the TdaP booster for rising sixth-graders, are also free.
It takes a series of four vaccinations in a child’s first 18 months, followed by a pre-kindergarten booster, to gain full immunization to the disease. That’s why the incidence rate is highest in infants, who are also most at risk from the contagious respiratory tract infection.
From infancy into adulthood, immunizations can protect us all from preventable, serious diseases. One of the biggest misconceptions is that diseases like pertussis, measles or mumps don’t exist anymore. The truth is that we still see these serious, life threatening diseases in people not immunized. What’s more, diseases that we often consider commonplace, like the flu, can be life threatening and are easily prevented with an annual immunization. Remember that YOU are your child’s best advocate, so take this as your duty to protect them, and August is the perfect time to do it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 17,000 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) and nine pertussis-related deaths have been reported in the U.S. so far this year. The majority of these deaths occurred among infants younger than three months of age who were either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated yet. The second highest rates of pertussis disease are observed among children 7 through 10 years old. Rates are also increased in adolescents 13 and 14 years of age.
The CDC and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases suggest the following shots people need at different ages:
- Children under age 6 get a series of shots to protect against measles, polio, chicken pox, and hepatitis.
- Preteens need shots at age 11 or 12 to help protect them from tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, meningitis, and HPV (human papillomavirus).
- Teens need a booster shot at age 16 to help protect them from meningitis.
- All adults need a booster shot every 10 years to protect against tetanus and diphtheria.
People age 65 or older need a one-time pneumonia shot.
“Schools or any building that houses or function with a large number of people are subject to a number of community acquired diseases and illnesses. Required immunizations can protect our youth and community from these illnesses.”
Chiquita Hunt, RN BSN
Department of Veteran Affairs, Hampton, VA
School attendance is also a community issue; which from a healthcare standpoint can be attributed to additional sick days in school age children. If immunizations are not given and required, it will further compromise the immune systems of our youth.
Not sure where to go to get immunizations?
The Richmond City Health District, at 400 Cary Street in the City of Richmond, is conducting a School Vaccination clinic on Friday, August 24th, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Walk-in, first come-first served). Tdap booster vaccinations, which are required for all students entering the 6th grade, will be provided as well as immunizations for initial school entry and day care. The Tdap is a booster shot that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
“Children are the most vulnerable to serious illnesses and diseases which could easily spread from one to another in group settings such as classrooms; that’s why it is very important to protect the health of youngsters entering daycare or school settings with required immunization,” says Dr. Donald Stern, Richmond City Health District Director.
“Also, since 2007, students who are entering 6th grade or a comparable age-level education must receive a Tdap booster vaccination or they will not be allowed to attend school; we encourage parents to make sure they get the Tdap vaccination before the start of the school season so that children will not have to miss any classroom days.”
Parents are reminded to bring their child’s shot records. School immunizations are normally provided at no cost, but please bring your insurance information. Front entrance directly into the clinic is located on Main Street at the corner of Main and 4th Streets. For more information, please call 482-5500. Richmond City Health District Resource Centers will also provide Back-to-School Clinics with school immunization and dental screenings:
Monday, August 20th at Fairfield Resource Center- 2311 N. 25th St.
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The Richmond Smiles Dental van will provide pediatric and adult dental screenings. Immunizations will be given for children, age 3 and older, and school and sports physicals for children, age 3 and older.
Friday, August 31st at Mosby Resource Center- 1536 Coalter St.
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The Richmond Smiles Dental van will provide adult and pediatric dental screenings. Immunizations will be given for children, age 3 and older, and school and sports physicals for children, age 3 and older.
These services will be provided at no cost; parents are asked to bring their child’s shot records. For more information, call the Fairfield Resource Center at 786-4099 or the Mosby Resource Center at 786-0204.
For more information on school requirements please visit the Virginia Department of Health website, www.vdh.state.va.us or call the Division of Immunization at (804) 864-8055.