Each year in August, the National Public Health Information Coalition, with assistance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), organizes National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). The month is meant to celebrate vaccines and increase awareness about them because as children return to school, it’s not only homework and projects they’ll be bringing home, but also an increased chance of bringing home vaccine-preventable diseases as well. Therefore, in addition to the traditions of back-to-school and new clothes shopping, making sure your students are up to date on their immunizations is another way you can prepare them for a healthy and happy school year ahead.
States have different laws about which vaccines are required to attend school or daycare (see the “Ask the VEC” section for more information). Children may be able to attend school without certain vaccines if there is a medical reason for why they can’t get them or if their parents have obtained a religious or philosophical exemption. However, the choice to obtain an exemption and avoid vaccination is not risk-free.
While the vaccine schedule from birth to 2 years of age features the most vaccinations, it’s important to remember that beginning around school age additional vaccines are recommended.
Right around the time a child may begin formal preschool, several immunizations are recommended. These “booster” vaccinations are recommended. These "booster" vaccinations (DTaP, MMR, chickenpox and polio) serve to remind a child's immune system that it has viral and bacterial vaccines in the past. This is also a great time to “catch up” if children missed vaccinations in previous years.
In addition to sports and activities physicals, adolescents are also recommended to receive vaccines, including: human papillomavirus (HPV) , meningococcus, and Tdap. The HPV vaccine is recommended at this age so that adolescents can complete the series of three doses over six months before they become sexually active. Because they are getting other vaccines at this visit, it makes starting the HPV vaccine more convenient. And once all three doses are administered, parents can be reassured that they have protected their children from a virus that causes cancer regardless of when they become sexually active.
Teenagers and college-aged students may also need some vaccines, particularly before going to college. For example, most colleges and universities require incoming freshman to have had the meningococcal vaccine. Likewise, they could ask for an immunization record, so it is a good time to make sure your teen is up to date on all vaccines. If a student is contemplating international travel for study abroad or volunteer programs, check into travel vaccine requirements well before travel. The CDC offers additional information and resources about vaccines for teenagers and college students as well as for travelers.
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