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July 07, 2020
Original blog posted: 08/22/19
Blog updated: 07/07/20
Parents have a lot on their minds as they navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic and start thinking about the new school year. Making sure your child's vaccinations are up-to-date is more important than ever.
Vaccines keep kids healthy and protect them from preventable illnesses. Here are three things you need to know about vaccines as you begin thinking about back-to-school needs, regardless of how different this school year looks.
Here are three things you need to know before your children head into the classroom.
Like most states, Arkansas has minimum vaccination requirements that must be met for children to attend public schools. Here are the criteria by age and vaccination type:
"Specifically, the ones that we think of the most as 'kindergarten shots,' are usually given at age four," said Dr. April Kilgore, Pediatric Medicine Specialist in the Primary Care Clinic at Arkansas Children's Northwest in Springdale. "These include the boosters for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, the polio booster and vaccinations for chickenpox and measles, mumps, and rubella." These are not new for children; they have been part of routine immunizations. Between the ages of 4 and 6, these are just boosting that immunity to get the best protection against these diseases.
"After the kindergarten shots, the next round of necessary immunizations for a child comes at age 11. This is when we give vaccines or boosters for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, meningitis, and Gardasil, or the human papillomavirus vaccine. A second meningitis booster is recommended for children after their 16th birthday before they start back to school."
"Anti-vaxxing" continues to remain prevalent in the United States despite recent outbreaks of measles, mumps and other preventable diseases. While remaining sensitive to the concerns that parents may have, Kilgore strongly advocates for the use of vaccines in all children.
"When we talk to parents about vaccines, we first try to get to what their specific concerns are and make sure that we're able to address those appropriately," she said. "In general, we talk about the fact that most of these vaccines have been around for quite a while and are proven to be safe and effective with very minimal side effects. Through science, we've been able to continue to work on minimizing the side effects of vaccines."
The risks of not vaccinating children are evident throughout the country in the many measles outbreaks and cases reported this year. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1,000 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 30 states this year – the highest number of cases reported in the United States since 1992. Measles was declared eliminated in 2000.
"Many parents have lost the healthy respect for these illnesses and how serious they can be if kids aren't vaccinated,"Kilgore said. "The problem is, as more and more parents choose not to vaccinate their children, these life-threatening illnesses start to come back."
While schools do not typically require them, Kilgore also strongly suggests that children receive annual flu shots to prevent the spread of flu.
Back-to-school season is a busy time of year for many families, and you may be just now realizing your child is not up to date on his or her vaccinations or routine check-ups. These things happen, Kilgore said, and many schools will offer a grace period, particularly if you can show proof of an appointment schedule that shows your child is getting caught up on vaccines.
For primary care appointments at Arkansas Children's Northwest, call 479-725-6995. For primary care appointments at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, call 501-261-0589.