Are vaccines on your back-to-school checklist?

Are vaccines on your back-to-school checklist?
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Let’s be real for a moment: Parenting is tough. 

Being fully responsible for the growth, development and protection of another human being can be overwhelming. And, even when we’re doing our best to ensure our children are safe, happy and healthy, we sometimes still question ourselves.

Are we making the right decision? Will this help or hurt my child? What will other people think? 

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These questions always seem to loom more intensely during back-to-school season as we make important decisions about childcare, after-school schedules and extracurricular activities, all while hoping that our children end up in classrooms where they will thrive and feel supported by both peers and teachers. 

While the many to-dos on our back-to-school checklists can make our heads spin, here’s one that we can be certain about: vaccinating our kids. 

The truth about vaccines

The resurgence of measles in the U.S. has been unprecedented and, for many of us, hard to fathom. We’ve seen nearly 1,200 cases across 30 states this year alone; the greatest number reported since 1992. 

You may not know this, but measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, in large part due to the power of immunization. Vaccines are what led to measles and so many other dangerous and painful diseases becoming rare and unseen today. But over the past decade, misinformation about immunization has led too many well-intentioned parents to question whether they should vaccinate their children. 

Years of research have shown immunization to be one of the most effective and successful tools to prevent illness from infectious disease like measles, flu, meningitis and whooping cough. Plus, leading childhood health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the March of Dimes Foundation — fully support vaccines as a critical tool for protecting and promoting the health of children. 

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As public health practitioners, we believe in the scientific evidence that shows vaccines to be safe and effective. More importantly, as parents, we believe in taking every possible measure to minimize our children’s risk of illness. It’s why we’re part of the 94 percent of U.S. parents who choose to vaccinate our kids. It’s why we hope you are, too. And, it’s why we fight so hard to help all kids get the immunizations they need to remain healthy and safe. 

Understanding what’s at risk

We know that the decision to vaccinate can be difficult for some parents, especially when we haven’t seen kids suffering from these ailments that are now-rare thanks to immunizations. But the potential consequences of not vaccinating are even more difficult to handle. 

Your child will be sick and in pain. He or she will miss school. You’ll need to find time and money to get to your doctor’s office and, for so many of us, one or both parents will have to miss work to care for a sick kid. This is the best-case scenario, and the reality could be far worse. 

  • Measles, which can linger in the air for two hours after an infected person was there, can produce severe complications including pneumonia, swelling of the brain and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a very rare, but fatal disease of the central nervous system that can develop seven to 10 years later. 

  • Flu can result in sinus or ear infections, pneumonia, swelling of the heart, brain or muscle tissues, respiratory and kidney failure, or even death. In fact, almost 200 children died from the flu during the 2017-18 season. 

  • Whooping cough (pertussis) causes violent coughing fits that may persist up to 10 weeks or longer and be accompanied by vomiting and exhaustion. 

We aren’t telling you these things to scare you; we’re telling you so that you understand what’s at stake. While some vaccines, like flu shots, are not 100 percent effective all the time, ask yourself what is better for your child: ensuring he or she get a vaccine that has an 85-95 percent chance of protecting from disease or refusing that same vaccine and leaving them completely at risk? 

And vaccination doesn’t just protect your child, it helps prevent disease from spreading and keeps other kids safe, such as newborns who can’t be vaccinated because they are too young or those children who have an underlying illness and also can’t be vaccinated.

It’s up to each parent to make his or her own decision, but take it from us — our children have been fully vaccinated and we urge everyone to follow suit. 

Taking action: Where to get your children vaccinated

When you vaccinate your child, you know that you did everything in your power to protect him or her from preventable illness. Parents who have primary care providers should talk to their physician about vaccines, even if your provider does not mention it. If you’re unsure about when your child should get a certain vaccine, check out this easy-to-read schedule.

Those who are uninsured or Medicaid-insured can visit their local health department, which often provides immunizations free of charge. As a health resource in your community, your local health department is well-equipped to help you learn more about vaccines, walk you through the immunization process, and administer those vaccinations to you and your family. You can also connect with your local school district, which may offer back-to-school immunization clinics.   

So, don’t delay — add immunizations to your back-to-school checklist. Do everything in your power to make sure your children receive the vaccinations they need to be the healthiest they and their peers, can be this school year. A healthy child is a happy child and, as parents, that’s what we all hope for. 

Lori Tremmel Freeman, MBA is the chief executive officer at the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Chrissie Juliano, MPP is the executive director at Big Cities Health Coalition.