By Gail Burke, DO, Family Medicine Physician
With a new school season starting, many parents are making lists to make sure their child has everything to begin the school year prepared. Protecting your child’s health should be number one on your list.
One of the best ways to keep your children healthy is to get them vaccinated. From newborn to college age, you can protect your children from 16 serious diseases, including polio, meningitis, diphtheria, flu, rotavirus and tetanus. Vaccinations work! Some terrible diseases that ravaged human beings for centuries were eliminated with the discovery of vaccination, such as the dreaded small pox virus, which the World Health Organization declared globally eradicated in 1979.
Vaccinations save lives
Before vaccines, many children died from diseases that vaccines now prevent, such as polio, measles and whooping cough. Those same germs exist today; because most children are vaccinated, we don’t see those diseases as often. Vaccination not only protects your child; it also protects the other children in the classroom and school, by something known as “herd immunity.” Germs can travel quickly through a community, such as your child’s classroom, and make a lot of children sick. If enough people get sick it can lead to an outbreak. But when enough children are vaccinated against a disease, the germs can’t travel as easily from person to person and the whole group is less likely to get the disease. That is “herd immunity!”
As a very busy parent, you’ve got enough to keep track of with your child’s multiple school and afterschool activities. Keeping track of a vaccination schedule is one less thing for you to worry about, because your child’s doctor will do this job.
Well-child visits and immunizations
Vaccinations are designed to be given automatically during well-child visits. Your family doctor or pediatrician will schedule these well-child visits and keep track of your child’s vaccinations and give you a health record with the history of your child’s vaccinations. This record is often required by your child’s school and other programs to ensure the health of all the children. And don’t worry. If your children have missed any vaccines, your doctor can use a “catch up” vaccination schedule to get them back on track.
There are free resources to help parents such as the CDC charts, “2018 Recommended Immunizations for Children from Birth through 6 Years old” and the “Recommended Immunizations for Children 6 years old through 18 years old.”
Some parents are confused and worried about vaccinations. They’ve heard that vaccinations can cause autism or long-term neurologic problems. Moms and Dads want to do what’s in the best interest of their children. All parents, and children, deserve the best science-based information on this topic. The CDC and many scientific groups have done extensive research on vaccine safety; their studies continue to find there is no scientific basis for this claim. Based on these major research findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Medicine support vaccinations for all children, infancy through college age. You are encouraged to bring your questions and concerns to your family doctor.
Additional benefits of vaccinations
There is another important benefit for parents who vaccinate their children. Their children are less likely to develop the childhood illnesses which require time off school for kids and time off work for parents. It also cuts down on need for doctor’s visits, and with very sick children, the need for hospitalization.
Programs that can help
Vaccinations can be expensive and many families cannot afford to pay for vaccines on their own. If you are unable to afford vaccinations for your child or if the vaccinations are not covered by your health insurance, do not let this stand in the way of protecting your child. He or she may be eligible for programs such as the Vaccines for Children program, a federal program established in 1998.
Finding your ‘Medical Home’
When you register as a patient at the UMC/LSU Family Medicine Clinic, this becomes your “Medical Home,” for you and every member of your family, no matter his or her age. One of the key beliefs of family medicine is disease prevention! We are dedicated to promoting your child’s health, through vaccinations and lifelong education on healthy lifestyle. We believe that vaccinations are one of the best lifelong strategies to prevent serious life threatening diseases and keep you and your loved ones healthy.
Dr. Gail Burke is a board certified family physician in the UMC/LSU Family Medicine Clinic. To learn more about Family Medicine at UMC, visit http://www.umcno.org/familymedicine or call (504) 962-6363 to schedule an appointment.