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Vaccinations You Should Know About as Your Child Heads Back to School

Last updated: Aug 30, 2019


Summit Medical Group family medicine physician, Chana Zablocki, MD is very much in favor of the annual well-child visit and adherence to the recommended childhood vaccination schedule. However, she likes to remind parents that school-required vaccines are not the only ones they should be paying attention to. “Many parents are quite diligent about bringing their children in for annual visits and following the recommended vaccination schedule,” she says. “However, there are vaccinations not on the school-required lists that are just as important for a child and their family.”

Below, Dr. Zablocki sheds light on several important vaccines parents may be less familiar with that they may want to consider for their child or teen.  

Hepatitis A vaccine

Hepatitis A, a virus that is spread by contaminated food and water and attacks the liver, is endemic to most countries of the world (excluding the USA, Canada and Western Europe). Although there has been a rise in the number of Hepatitis A outbreaks in the U.S. since 2014, this vaccine is not required for school attendance in New Jersey. Experts recommend receiving this vaccination at least two weeks prior to traveling.

My advice as a health care provider: Anyone traveling outside the United States should be vaccinated for Hepatitis A. So, don’t wait until your family trip is planned or for your college-aged child to tell you last minute that they are going to Costa Rica for Spring Break!

Meningococcal vaccine (MCV)

There are several strains of the meningococcal bacteria including A, B, C, W and Y. It has long been mandated in New Jersey that for school attendance all 11-year-olds receive the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against strains A, C, W, and Y. Unfortunately, immunity from this vaccine begins to wane after five years. It is recommended (but not required by schools) to receive a second dose (a booster) at age 16. This vaccine does not protect against meningitis B, a potentially deadly bacterium that attacks the brain and can cause blindness, deafness, and paralysis. Frighteningly, there have been several outbreaks of meningitis B at colleges in the state, but a new vaccine came out in 2015 that protects young adults from contracting meningitis B.

My advice as a health care provider: Make sure your preteens receive the meningococcal A, C, W, Y vaccine at age 11 or 12 with a booster at age 16. If you have a college student, I recommend that they get the new meningococcal B vaccine before heading off to the dorms.

Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)

Measles is more contagious than the Flu, and this year, the U.S. had its largest measles outbreak in 25 years. If you are found to have been at the same location as someone with measles, the local health department may quarantine you for 21 days, unless you have proof of receiving two vaccines or have a blood test result showing you are immune. Two Universities in Los Angeles quarantined hundreds of students and staff in April 2019 after two students were found to have the measles.

My advice as a health care provider: To avoid missing work days, check your vaccine record to make sure that your child has received two doses of the MMR.  If you do not have documentation, speak with your doctor about getting the vaccine or having your immunity checked with a simple blood test. 

Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine

Chickenpox is seen less these days, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t around or can’t come back in full force. Although it is not serious for some people who contract it, others may end up with serious complications.

Up until 2007, the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) only recommended a one-time vaccine for the chickenpox. However, research shows that immunity wanes over the years making a person who had previously been vaccinated only 60 percent protected. Based on those findings, the ACIP changed its recommendation to two chickenpox vaccines, given at least four weeks apart. The school system in New Jersey only requires one vaccine to attend school, but the second vaccine provides a 97 percent protection rate.

My advice as a health care provider: Check your teen or young adult's vaccine record. If they only received one varicella vaccine, have them vaccinated again.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

Human papillomavirus is a virus that impacts approximately 1 in 4 people in the U.S. Some strains of this virus are known to cause gynecologic cancers, anal and throat cancers, and genital warts.

The HPV vaccine has now been proven to reduce the risk of cancer.  The vaccine is recommended for all boys and girls starting at age 9.  It is better to receive the vaccine earlier rather than later, to protect your child long before they are ever exposed to the virus.

My advice as a health care provider:  All children 9-14 should receive 2 doses of the HPV vaccine. Children and young adults not vaccinated by age 14 should receive 3 doses.

Influenza vaccine

Fall is not only back-to-school season. It is also the start of flu season.  All children above the age of 6 months should receive the annual flu vaccine.  Several point to remember:

  1. The flu shot cannot give you the flu.
  2. You will not be protected from catching a cold. If you get a cold during the season, this doesn’t mean the shot is ineffective
  3. By getting the shot you are also protecting people in the community who may not be able to get the flu shot for medical reasons

My advice as a health care provider:  All children should get the flu shot annually. 

Bottom Line

Vaccines are safe and help guard against multiple types of diseases, including some cancers, but some are not required by schools. Your child’s health care provider is your first source of reliable information. So, talk to your child’s doctor to see which vaccines are right for your family!

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