With school back in session across Kentucky, now is a good time to check if your children’s vaccinations are up to date.
State law mandates several immunizations for school-age children, but parents might also want to consider additional vaccines that are widely recommended but not yet required by law, says Dr. Grace Maguire, professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and a pediatrician at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.
Vaccines work by triggering the body to produce its own natural disease-fighting substances, called antibodies. Many vaccines are made from killed or weakened strains of the same germs they protect against. The vaccines themselves do not make people sick, but they arm the body’s immune system to enable it to ward off infection by live viruses in order to prevent illness.
Kentucky regulations require that children entering kindergarten have booster doses of polio vaccine and DPT—a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus—after their fourth birthday. They must also have had two doses of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine by age 4. These are in addition to the shots given during infancy.
A second dose of the varicella vaccine, which protects against the virus that causes chicken pox, is also strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, but this is not yet required by state law, Maguire says.
Middle school vaccinations
Students entering middle school must have had a dose of tetanus vaccine within the previous five years. Maguire recommends that this be in the form of the Tdap vaccine, which also boosts immunity to pertussis (whooping cough), an increasing concern nationally.
“Most middle-school-age children received their last dose of pertussis vaccine at age 4 or 5, and their immunity has worn off,” Maguire says. “This not only leaves them vulnerable to disease themselves, but it also helps to create a reservoir of disease that can be easily passed on to adults.”
Maguire says children entering middle school should also be offered the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against meningitis, and the second dose of varicella vaccine if not already received.
Pre-teen girl vaccinations
Girls should be encouraged to begin the HPV vaccine series starting at age 11 or 12, Maguire says. The HPV vaccine protects against four common strains of the human papilloma virus. Two of these strains are responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine, therefore, greatly reduces the lifetime risks of developing cervical cancer.
Parents with specific questions or concerns about their children’s vaccinations should contact their pediatrician.