State law requires the tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination for all children entering public schools.
It’s the time of year when parents and kids scramble to find the right binders, loose-leaf paper, and No. 2 pencils. Amid the bustle of the back-to-school season, Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services encourages caregivers to prepare their children for good health, both in and out of the classroom, by making sure they have the proper vaccinations.
“Making sure children are immunized is crucial in protecting the health and welfare of Kentuckians,” said Dr. Steve Davis, acting commissioner for public health. “Every parent should become knowledgeable about vaccines, how they prevent disease and when their child should be vaccinated.”
Keeping track of which shots are needed at what ages can seem complicated, but Dr. Jeffery Mudd, pediatrician at the Pediatric Group of Paducah, offers some basic guidelines.
“Kids have to have immunizations to go to kindergarten, but we usually recommend they get them as soon as (the age of) 4,” Mudd said.
At that time, children will receive shots to protect them from measles, mumps, and rubella. Children who have not had the chicken pox rash will receive a booster. They will also be immunized against polio, as well as diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or whooping cough.
Once the tears have dried, parents can breathe a sigh of relief — and prepare for the next round of vaccinations.
Children entering sixth grade are required to get both a tetanus and whooping cough booster, Mudd said. Because requirements have recently changed, it is important for parents to make sure their sixth-graders also receive a “catch-up” shot for chicken pox.
“Starting last year in Kentucky, they’ve mandated older kids who didn’t get the chicken pox booster when they were younger to get it then,” Mudd said.
With their teenage years right ahead of them, sixth graders must also be vaccinated against meningococcal (bacterial) meningitis.”The teenage age group is a big risk factor for (meningitis),” Mudd said. “A lot of it, you’ll see in high school kids on first dates, or first kisses, and sharing sodas, that kind of thing.”
Close living situations are conducive to the spread of bacterial meningitis, as well. “You’ll often see it with college students who live in dormitories, or people in the military who live in barracks. Many colleges require, or strongly encourage (immunization) if you live in a dormitory,” Mudd said.
Mudd mentioned that some vaccines are not required by the public school system, but should be given nonetheless. He said that influenza kills 30,000 or more every year. Because the strains change often, annual vaccinations are key to flu prevention.
“With the nasal vaccine especially, immunity has been shown to last well past the length of the flu season. Some clinics, including ours, are going to start doing vaccines this month,” Mudd said.
A second vaccine for parents to consider protects children against human papillomavirus, or HPV.
“It’s a cancer prevention vaccine,” Mudd said. Children can receive the vaccine at 11, although parents are sometimes hesitant to vaccinate their children at that age.
“This is a sexually transmitted disease. Some parents don’t want to think about that issue, so they delay it just because of that,” Mudd said.
“I always tell parents I like to get it in their system before they’re sexually active. They’re already here, getting shots, and they’re healthy, so let’s get started on this one too,” Mudd said.
Whooping cough offers an example of why immunization should be a priority for adults, as well.
“Oftentimes you’ll see whooping cough in a baby who’s too young to be fully immunized, so the best way to protect that baby is for the adults be fully immunized. Getting a booster as an adult is recommended, especially if you’re a caretaker for an infant,” Mudd said.
Since immunization can decrease over time, Mudd recommends following pediatricians’ guidelines in regard to vaccination.
“The advice has been out for decades, but we’re seeing increases in some of these illnesses that can be prevented by vaccines,” Mudd said.
A possible reason for the increase in preventable disease is parents’ refusal to have their children immunized. “They worry about the side effects from the vaccine,” Mudd said.
According to Mudd, concerns over immunizations and their links to autism have been scientifically disproven, as has the worry over the neurological effects of the mercury in the shots. However, parents continue to worry.
“A lot of internet searches provide misinformation to parents that can negatively affect their children,” said Mudd. He tries to direct parents to scientifically based literature, and recommends the Academy of American Pediatric’s web site, aap.org.
Call Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8668.