Why Your Child Should Be Vaccinated
Schools are in session and most children have received their required vaccinations, but even if schools didn’t require shots, there are plenty of good reasons to be sure those shots and others are up to date, and starting early.
All of the required school vaccines (among others) are offered at younger ages, often in a series of doses spread out over months or years from birth onward, according to Kavita Gupta-Shah, MD, who is board-certified in pediatrics and the lead physician at Einstein Pediatrics at Colgate Pediatrics in the Lawncrest neighborhood of Philadelphia. Dr. Gupta-Shah has been a pediatrician for nine years, and associated with the Einstein Healthcare Network for four.
The first poliovirus vaccine is given at 2 months, the second at 4 months, and the third dose between 6 and 18 months. The fourth dose is typically given between 4 and 6 years of age.
The first dose of diphtheria, tetanus & acellular pertussis (DTaP) is given at 2 months, the second at 4 months, the third at 6 months, the fourth dose between 15 and 18 months, and a fifth dose between 4 and 6 years.
Three other vaccines, all of which begin to be provided when children are below school age include: measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); hepatitis B, and chickenpox (varicella).
At least one dose of all of the above is required before the beginning of school in Pennsylvania. If not all doses have been received by the beginning of school, another dose is required within the first five days of class, along with a medical plan for receiving the rest. If not medically appropriate within the first five days, a medical plan is also required for receiving the rest. Students can be exempted for a “medical reason, religious belief, or philosophical/strong moral or ethical conviction.”
Before entering seventh grade, children are required to have received their meningitis vaccine and a booster shot of DTaP.
Before starting 12th grade—typically at 16—children need to have received a meningitis booster.
One other vaccine that is offered starting at 11, though not required, is HPV—human papilloma virus. The HPV shot initially ran into resistance from parents because of its connection to sexually-transmitted disease, according to Dr. Gupta-Shah. “The vaccine’s actual purpose is more for cancer prevention,” she says. (HPV has been linked to several forms of cancer caused by HPV infections.) “So now in the media, it’s being marketed toward cancer prevention, which is helping alleviate some of the concerns that parents have when they come into the office.”
Some parents, she says, do resist vaccines because they believe there is a link between vaccinations and autism, but, Dr. Gupta-Shah says, this belief has not been supported by the scientific literature.
Are there risks? Yes, but they’re small. “There is always the risk of a localized reaction, which we do explain to all parents,” Dr. Gupta-Shah says. “There is also a very, very subtle risk, below point one percent, of Guillain-Barre syndrome with the HPV vaccine, which we explain to parents as well. And the HPV vaccine has caused more lightheadedness symptoms than the other vaccines, which we advise parents of, and we have children wait before they get up right after the vaccine.”
Regardless of those small side effects, the benefits are incalculable. Thanks to vaccines, children can avoid the health risks of experiencing measles, mumps or chickenpox. The benefits of HPV in particular are well proven.
But there’s another reason why children need to be vaccinated, and not just because schools require it. Children with these diseases can infect other children who are unvaccinated. For example, news reports suggest there are more measles cases in Minnesota—73—than all the measles cases reported nationwide in 2016. Most who acquired the disease were unvaccinated children. Measles is not a harmless childhood rite of passage. It can cause serious brain and lung infections. Twenty-one of those infected in Minnesota have been hospitalized.
Dr. Gupta-Shah emphasizes the importance of immunization with one more example. “A child who’s unvaccinated for chickenpox coming into a doctor’s office waiting room can infect children and infants who have never received the vaccine,” she says. “It brings great risk to infants.”