The school year is here again. Whether your child is starting kindergarten or finishing high school, it’s a good time to make sure he or she is up-to-date on vaccinations. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by safely strengthening the body’s natural defenses. In doing so, they help us develop immunity to disease.
Here are six reasons to vaccinate your child:
Protect your child
From birth to age 18, vaccines are highly effective in preventing 16 harmful diseases from affecting your child. These diseases include illnesses that are common in the United States, such as chickenpox and whooping cough (pertussis), as well as illnesses that are rare in the United States, but can and do still occur, such as mumps and measles. Before immunization was available, diseases that are now vaccine-preventable could kill or seriously harm both children and adults.
Keep your community healthy & protect especially vulnerable children and adults
Some children and adults are unable to receive certain vaccines due to serious immune-compromising illnesses, like cancer. When a good size of the population is protected against vaccine-preventable illnesses through immunization, those who are unable to receive the vaccination have the benefit of community immunity—enough people are vaccinated such that the disease has limited opportunity to spread within the community. However, it is essential that all those able to receive vaccinations do so in order to continue this protection.
It’s inexpensive or free
Most health insurance policies will cover the cost of standard vaccines. For families to whom this does not apply, there is the Vaccination for Children Program (VFC). This is a federally-funded program that provides vaccines at no cost for kids who otherwise might go unimmunized due to inability to pay. All families with children who are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured or underinsured, or American Indian or Alaska Native may utilize this program.
Vaccines are safe
Millions of children are safely vaccinated every year. Before a vaccination becomes available for widespread use, extensive study of safety and effectiveness is required. This data is reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration. After licensing has occurred and the vaccine becomes available for use, there is a system in place for ongoing monitoring for safety issues and adverse reactions. For more about vaccine safety, read this article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Side effects are typically mild
Most children won’t have any side effects. For those who do, side effects are almost always mild and include soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site. With some vaccines, it is possible that your child may develop a fever or mild rash. These mild side effects are treatable and last a couple of days. Serious reactions are very rare.
One childhood vaccine can even prevent cancer
The HPV vaccination prevents six types of cancer caused by infection with human papilloma virus. Many cancers are HPV-related and prevented by the HPV vaccine. All boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12 should receive two HPV vaccinations 6-12 months apart. If your teen is beyond this age, they are eligible to receive this vaccination up to age 26. The vaccine works best in preteens than older teens and adults and is best given before possible exposure to the virus through sexual activity.
Vaccines are important for adults, too! Learn more at the CDC website (www.cdc.gov/vaccines), or talk to your physician.
Kayla Corbett, MD, is a family medicine resident at Family Practice Milton, part of the University of Vermont Medical Center.