This is Part 22 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABC’s for Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.
Top Three Take-Aways:
- Vaccines help your child’s body build immunity to serious illnesses without becoming infected.
- Vaccines currently in use in the U.S. are thoroughly researched, vetted, and monitored or their safety and effectiveness.
- Proof of immunity is required under state law for certain diseases if your child is going into childcare or a K-12 school.
Help your child’s body build its defenses
Typically, when a child gets sick, their body fights the infection and builds immunity in doing so. This means that the next time the same germs attack, the body recognizes them and can quickly defend against the illness.
However, the human body can’t always fight off an infection or fight it off fast enough, so getting sick can lead to severe results. Serious diseases can cause disability or death, and they may be particularly harmful to younger children. Examples include polio, once more common in the U.S. and notorious for causing disability (including permanent paralysis) and death, as well as whooping cough (pertussis), which requires hospitalization for about a third of babies who become sick with it.
So how can the body build immunity without experiencing the illness? This is where vaccines come in.
Vaccines offer a way to introduce the immune system to a disease without getting infected. Think of vaccinating your child as giving their growing body the training it needs to defend itself in case they are exposed to a disease later.
Keeping up with recommended vaccines for children and teens helps their bodies build immunity against many diseases:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Haemophilus influenzae type b
- Influenza (the flu)
- Meningococcal disease
- Pertussis (whooping cough)
- Pneumococcal disease
Children and teens in Washington can get recommended vaccines for free. The vaccines themselves are available at no cost until their 19th birthday.?While providers may charge an office visit or administration fee, most insurance plans will cover the costs and multiple clinics offer a sliding fee scale for those without insurance.
Vaccine safety and confidence
Vaccines currently in use in the U.S. are vetted for safety and effectiveness.
Before a vaccine can be used, it undergoes thorough testing, including clinical trials and review. Benefits of the vaccine must greatly outweigh any possible risks, or the vaccine will not be authorized or approved for use.
As with any medicine or consumable, it is possible to have a significant adverse reaction to a vaccine. However, these reactions are rare. It is much more common to have mild side effects, such as a sore arm where you got the shot or feeling under the weather the day after.
Many diseases are now uncommon in the U.S. thanks to vaccination, sanitation, and other prevention efforts. However, they are still a threat because they spread in other parts of the world, and unvaccinated travelers can catch a disease and bring it back. Illnesses do not care about international boundaries, and we’ve seen throughout history – most recently with COVID-19 – how easily a contagious disease can spread across multiple countries and continents.
Parents and caregivers may feel overloaded with information, suggestions, or advice on keeping their kids safe and healthy. A few key things to keep in mind about childhood immunizations:
- The recommended vaccine schedule is your child’s best protection. Spacing out vaccines over a longer time period than the CDC’s recommended schedule* can delay important protection for your children. Kids’ immune systems can handle the vaccinations on the recommended timeline.
*Click for the schedule for birth to 6 years old, and the schedule for 7-18 years old.
- Vaccines do not cause autism. Studies and reviews following millions of children from around the world have shown that there is no connection between autism and childhood vaccines.
- Breastfed babies need vaccines, too. Breast milk boosts protection from things like colds, ear infections, and diarrhea, but will not protect against all diseases. Childhood vaccines are the best defense as your baby grows. The combination of being up-to-date on immunizations and breastfeeding is a great way to maximize your baby’s defenses against illness.
- Get answers from a medical professional. When it comes to your child’s health, you want the best advice. If you have specific questions about vaccination or your child’s immunizations or health history, please talk with your child’s healthcare provider.
Immunization requirements for school-age children
Under state law, K-12 students must provide proof of immunity, or a certificate of exemption, for certain diseases, as do children attending child care. This includes chickenpox, measles, mumps, diphtheria, pneumococcal disease, German measles/rubella, polio, tetanus, hepatitis B, and whopping cough/pertussis. Any of these diseases has the potential to cause serious illness, particularly in vulnerable groups such as young children, pregnant women, or the elderly.
There are more than 120,000 K-12 students in Snohomish County, and 91.6% of them have provided documentation that they’ve completed required immunizations.
Higher rates of immunization in a community protect not only individuals, but those around them. Communities with higher immunization rates are less likely to experience outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, and more likely to be able to curb the spread if there were a case.
While K-12 immunization rates overall are above 90%, fewer than 90% of kindergartners in the county have completed requirements, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health.
It’s important for parents or guardians whose children will soon be entering childcare or school to schedule a wellness visit with their children’s healthcare provider and make sure they are up-to-date on immunizations. Then, provide proof of immunity to your childcare or school.
Remember that not all important vaccines are required. There are multiple other vaccines that are strongly recommended. Annual flu shots and the COVID vaccine series and booster doses are among those recommendations.
Preteens or teens should also get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV causes certain types of cancers, mostly throat and cervical. Getting vaccinated against HPV before ever being exposed greatly reduces the likelihood of HPV-caused cancer. Getting this vaccine early is important because younger kids have a stronger immune response, and they need fewer doses to be fully immunized. Multiple studies have shown that getting the HPV vaccine early on in adolescence does not increase the likelihood of becoming sexually active earlier. It’s best for tween or teens to build their defenses against HPV before they become sexually active.
More information about immunizations
Take some time now to check off the “V” in the ABC’s for healthy kids. Is everyone in your household up-to-date on immunizations?
Getting all required and recommended vaccines is one of the best ways to protect your children – and your community – against preventable and potentially severe illnesses.