August 15, 2008

Ready for back-to-school? Only if your child is immunized.

By Mayte Prida

It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the 4th of July, but believe it or not, fall is just around the corner and that means getting our children ready for the classroom. For many parents, that means trips to the store armed with back-to-school shopping lists for things like crayons, erasers and notepads. But another back-to-school ritual shouldn’t be overlooked: call your pediatrician to find out if your child has the immunizations he or she needs to enter school or daycare. It’s important to find out now, before the school year starts.

Immunizations play a critical role in protecting your child’s health. Most vaccines work by tricking the immune system into thinking that a real infection is taking place, even though it is not. Then when the person is exposed to that illness again, the immune system is already activated and ready to fend it off. That way, your child won’t get sick and it will help prevent the spread of disease to other children.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines have contributed to a significant reduction in many childhood diseases, such as polio, measles, and whooping cough. Many of these conditions now sound like relics of a bygone era, and we’re lucky. A child born today can expect to live 30 years longer than a child born a century ago, according the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Today, it is rare for American children to experience the devastating effects of these illnesses. But vaccines are still an important and necessary part of protecting the health of your child. Why? We live in an increasingly global society; the germs that cause vaccine-preventable diseases and death still exist and can be passed on to people who are unprotected against them.

Like any medicine, vaccination has benefits and risks, and no vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing disease. But the fact is that a child is far more likely to be seriously injured by one of these diseases than by any vaccine, according to the CDC. Most side effects of vaccines are usually minor and short-lived. A child may feel soreness at the injection site or experience a low-grade fever. Serious vaccine reactions are extremely rare.

America’s pharmaceutical research companies are making tremendous strides in developing and discovering vaccines and other medicines to treat a host of conditions that impact our children. There is now a vaccine routinely recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls that protects against four types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV), which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, according to the CDC. And, the CDC recently reported that a new vaccine against rotavirus – a condition that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea among infants and young children, resulting in tens of thousands of hospitalizations every year – is making a significant impact, leading to the lowest incidence rate since the CDC began monitoring it 15 years ago. Even more hope is on the horizon. Biopharmaceutical researchers are testing more than 200 medicines, including 23 vaccines, to treat the special health needs of kids.

Back-to-school time can be hectic for families – sometimes it’s hard enough to remember to pack your child’s lunch for the day, let alone keeping track of all the immunizations they need throughout their childhood. But it’s worth the effort, and required by law in some states. Call your pediatrician or school’s administration office to find out what vaccinations your child might need. You can also visit the CDC’s Web site at www.cdc.gov for an up-to-date schedule of immunizations for children of various ages. If your child or adolescent has missed any shots, check with your doctor about getting back on track. It just might save the life of your child or someone else’s.

Mayte Prida, a nationally recognized television personality, producer and author, is a national spokeswoman for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a patient assistance program clearinghouse launched in April 2005 by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). 

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