GREATER SPRINGFIELD – The time is now to schedule school-required vaccinations.
“Don’t delay and wait until the last minute or you might be caught in the rush for exams and vaccinations that doctors see each year at this time as the new school year rapidly approaches,” Dr. Shamsha Shafi of Pediatrics at Baystate High Street Health Center, said.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity to highlight the need for improving national immunization coverage levels.
“Getting you child vaccinated and up-to-date on all recommended vaccines is one of the best gifts you can give your children and others today,” Shafi said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), making sure children of all ages receive all their vaccinations on time is “one of the most important things parents can do to ensure their child’s long-term health, as well as the health of friends, classmates, and others in the community.”
Most vaccines are given during the first five to six years of life, when children are most vulnerable to infections. Other immunizations are recommended during adolescent or adult years and for certain vaccines, booster immunizations are recommended throughout life.
According to Shafi, by state law children must be up-to-date on their required immunizations to start school. Immunization requirements as listed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health are:
• Two doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine for entry to kindergarten, seventh and eighth grade, full-time college freshmen and sophomores and health science students.
• Two doses of varicella (chicken pox) vaccine for entry to kindergarten, seventh and eighth grade, full-time college freshmen and sophomores and health science students.
• One dose Tdap for entry to seventh and eighth grade, full-time college freshmen and health science students.
The Tdap booster dose, recommended by the CDC for preteens at ages 11 or 12 for protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), became a requirement for Massachusetts’s schoolchildren only in the past two years.
Children initially receive protection against these bacteria with the DTaP vaccine, which loses its effectiveness over time. As a result, preteens and teens need to get a Tdap booster dose, which is important not only to protect them, but those around them, especially babies and the elderly.
Echoing the conclusions of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine, pediatricians say vaccines are the only safe, effective way to protect your child from serious and sometimes deadly diseases, and suggest talking to your child’s doctor if you have concerns over the safety or efficacy of vaccination.
“Parents always ask if a vaccine will harm their child. It is rare for a child to experience dangerous side effects and, for those who do, any reaction is usually minor such as soreness at the injection site, a slight rash, or mild fever,” Shafi said, noting that on very rare occasions some children may have moderate reactions such as a high fever, chills and muscle aches.
While there has been public controversy about the relationship between vaccines and autism reported by the media, the concerns are unfounded, she noted.
Parents should follow the vaccination schedule provided by the CDC, which is designed by experts to ensure maximum protection and safety for children at various ages. Find schedules online at www.aap.org/immunization