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Back to School, Back to the Doctor's Office

By Soumiya Prakasam
MD, FACEP

Most children dread the pediatrician's office as they know it as the place of painful shots.  While kids prep their arms, thighs, and backsides for crucial health maintenance and protection, parents should read upon the importance of immunizations. 

Before Kindergarten, your child most likely received their Hepatitis B, Polio, Varicella chicken pox,Hib, DTaP, and part of their MMR.  As they continue on through high school, The CDC recommends completion of the meningococcal, Tdap, and MMR.  The Influenza vaccine is offered annually,while other options include Hepatitis A, pneumococcal, and HPV.  Whew! It certainly seems like every generation has an added shot to their list.

Private and public schools require student vaccines to be up-to-date.  Most states offer exemptions for health, religious and philosophical reasons. With the recent outbreak of measles in California, the state passed a law that only a doctor's note stating a medical reason will keep your child from receiving required immunizations.  At present,even some pediatric practices have started turning away unvaccinated kids in order to protect the other children in the office.

Many think the small risk of catching some of these diseases negates the usefulness of these vaccines. Herd immunity offers protection to the population only if a high percentage of the people are vaccinated.  For example,to have effective herd immunity with measles, we need 19 out of 20 immune people.  An example of how this defense can easily break down happened across the Atlantic a few years ago.  By 2003 only 78 percent of 2 year olds in Whales had the MMR shot, so in 2013, 1200 people contracted measles in that area. The reason for the low vaccination rate was most likely due to the now de-bunked study from Andrew Wakefield.  The former doctor was stripped of his medical license after making fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Though measles is rarely deadly,it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, brain damage and deafness.  Mumps and Rubella can also lead to meningitis and brain inflammation (encephalitis).

If a vaccine existed for something as benign as the common cold, I would sign up to protect against all the missed days of work and discomfort. Why not protect yourself and child against more deadly diseases? Now we even have a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer!  If a disease no longer posed a threat, we would not be required to receive the vaccine.  Thankfully, we don't see children lining up for their smallpox shot anymore.

Some wonder about the risks of these shots, and of course we can exempt children allergic to the vaccines.  However, any serious side effects only occur 1 in every million.  Please refer to the CDC website or talk to your pediatrician about your concerns. After you endure your children's tears, take comfort in the fact that you have protected them against deadly disease.  With thousands of international flights daily, we can imagine how quickly these viruses spread,thus vaccinating should be a global effort!

About the Author: Dr. Soumiya Prakasam is originally from Chicago but in the past year relocated to San Jose, California where she lives with her husband.  She finished residency at the University of Chicago in 2009 and has a strong interest in international medicine.