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Monthly Health Topics

Back to School: Don't Forget to Immunize Your Child

By Susan Beane, M.D., Vice President and Medical Director, Healthfirst
It’s back-to-school time, when parents are busy making sure that their children have everything they need to start the school year on the right foot. If you’re like many other parents, you probably have a checklist of things you need to do or purchase before your child returns to school in September. But one thing parents often neglect to check is whether their children are up-to-date with their immunizations.
This year, from January through June, the U.S. has had a record 477 confirmed measles cases, the highest number since measles was reportedly eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. A large population of unvaccinated people—many of them young children and teens—has caused measles to become a growing threat.
My colleague Carlos Ortiz, M.D., a pediatrician who practices in Flushing, Queens, spoke to me recently about why vaccinations are so important for our children.
Susan Beane, M.D. : Can you talk about what is a vaccine and what it actually contains?
Carlos Ortiz, M.D.: A vaccine is a medication that is given in a child’s muscle to prevent them from getting sick. A part of the vaccine causes us to produce antibodies in order to protect against an illness. Vaccines may also have antibiotics, and they can also have preservatives that prevent them from spoiling.
Dr. Beane: Why is it so important to vaccinate your child?
Dr. Ortiz: Most of our children are little factories of germs, and they spread germs when they are very close together as they go to school and communicate with each other. With children you want to protect them from common diseases that most adults have already been exposed to and have produced immunities against.
Dr. Beane: At what age should you vaccinate your child, and what are the major vaccines that are necessary?
Dr. Ortiz: We should start vaccinating our children at birth with the Hepatitis B vaccine, and then afterwards they can get a second Hepatitis B vaccine at a month or two of age. The other vaccines are given at two months, four months, and six months. Other vaccinations can be given at 12 months of age, and by the time the child is two years old, he should have had about 27 different vaccines, which include vaccines against polio, rubella (German measles), rubeola (measles), diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB), group B vaccine, mumps, and chicken pox. These vaccines are spread out through the first two to four years of life, given at a set schedule approved by the Academy of Pediatrics because it’s proven to work well that way.
Dr. Beane: You mentioned the measles. There have been outbreaks this year in New York City, and some cases were among vaccinated people. How can that be possible?
Dr. Ortiz: In most cases, the disease occurred in children too young to be vaccinated. Three of the cases occurred in children whose parents didn’t want their kids vaccinated. Other patients are adults whom we don’t know whether they were vaccinated against measles or whether the strength of the vaccination they got as infants has weakened. That is one of the most important reasons we vaccinate children—to keep the disease burden in the city very low. If children are poorly vaccinated, then older people whose immunity has weakened are more likely to get the disease.
Dr. Beane: Much has been discussed in the news about a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. Is there any truth in that claim?
Dr. Ortiz: There is no truth at all. This all came from a very small study that was done in 1998. The study associated measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines with autism. The study included 12 children, and there were 14 investigators in that study—so it was a very small, flawed study and was retracted several years later. There was an investigation done in order to find out why the study was accepted and promoted. There were a lot of misconceptions, and people were made fearful of the vaccine. It has been totally proven that vaccines are not linked to autism. Autism is a biological disease that usually occurs before birth.
Dr. Beane is Vice President and Medical Director at Healthfirst®. For more tips on leading a healthier lifestyle, visit the Healthfirst website at www.healthfirst.org.

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