Health News
Health News
October 14, 2019
It’s Time for a Vaccine Checkup

As summer vacation draws to a close, parents begin their annual back-to-school preparations.  Along with school supplies and new clothes, a trip to your child’s healthcare provider may be in order.  That’s because it’s critically important that every child be up to date on life-saving vaccines.

Texas law requires that school children who attend public, charter or private schools be current on several vaccines.  In addition to these mandatory immunizations, there are a few more that are strongly recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the healthcare providers of Privia Medical Group North Texas. 

“There are few things, if any, we can do for our health and our children’s health that are more impactful than staying current on recommended vaccines,” says Dr. Emily Copeland, a pediatrician. “Vaccines save lives and prevent serious illnesses.”

How Vaccines Work

Vaccines work in conjunction with the human body’s natural defenses.  A vaccine contains a small amount of the disease; it may be a live germ, but one that has been weakened so much that it won’t make anyone sick.  In other cases, it’s an inactivated germ; i.e., one that is dead. Other vaccines may contain just a part of the germ that causes the illness.

The body naturally produces white blood cells to fight off infections.  Vaccines strengthen those defenses by helping to train white blood cells on how best to fight the disease.  After the vaccine, certain types of white blood cells will remember how to fight a particular infection if they come into contact with it again.  With some diseases, multiple doses of a vaccine are required to fully train the body to fight the infection.  Additionally, some protections may wear off over time, necessitating a booster vaccine to bring the body’s defenses back up to maximum strength.

Vaccine Myths & Lies

It’s proven science that vaccines prevent illness and save lives.  Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation about vaccines that has resulted in some parents questioning their value or even mistakenly believing vaccines are harmful.  Much of the conversation around vaccines is cloaked in innocuous-sounding language about “parental choice,” but in reality, the anti-vaxx movement, as it is known, has become dangerous because of the false information it perpetuates.

Vaccine myths can largely be traced back to a discredited British physician who published a paper in the late 1990s that claimed a certain vaccine could cause autism in children.  His “research” was soon labeled as fraudulent and subsequently discredited by the scientific and medical community.  But with the ability of information to spread quickly online – even though it was false – some parents mistakenly believed that a vaccine/autism link existed.  Social media has further enabled this misinformation to spread far and wide. 

“Vaccines are proven to work and any suggestion that they are unsafe is simply false,” says Dr. Rebecca Butler, a pediatrician.  “There are, unfortunately, some who believe in the anti-vaccine junk science that has cropped up over the last twenty years.  If you speak with any credible health care professional, they will tell you that vaccines are essential because they save lives.  Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible and dangerous.” 

For anyone who has doubt about the value of vaccines, consider smallpox.  This disease, which dates back to ancient Egypt, was a major threat to human health for centuries.  Three out of every ten people who contracted smallpox would die as a result. 

More than 200 years ago, an English physician named Edward Jenner began trying to develop a vaccine to protect against smallpox.  Building on his work, scientists perfected the vaccine in the decades that followed and by the 20th century, it was proven that people could be immunized against smallpox.  In 1980, the 33rd World Health Assembly declared smallpox to be eradicated from the globe.  According to the CDC, “eradication of smallpox is considered the biggest achievement in international public health.”

Immunization Schedule

Children begin receiving immunizations shortly after birth and continue to do so throughout childhood.  However, immunizations are not just for babies and young children.  People of all ages need periodic immunizations to protect against various diseases.  Here is a look at the most common immunizations, the diseases they help prevent and standard guidelines on who should get them and when. 

Please note that these are standard guidelines developed and issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  If you or your child have an underlying health condition, your physician may recommend forgoing a vaccine or receiving additional vaccines.  It is very important to consult with your physician on immunizations. 

Printable, color-coded charts showing recommended vaccinations by age can be found on the CDC’s website:

The information in these charts and below has been updated for 2019.  Vaccines are listed in chronological order based on the age they are administered. 

Required Immunizations for Children

Hepatitis B (HepB)

Vaccine Schedule

  • Birth AND
  • 1-2 months AND
  • 6-18 months

Why It’s Important

Hepatitis B is a virus that attacks the liver.  It is spread through the blood and other bodily fluids.   

Rotavirus (RV, RV1, RV5)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 2 months AND
  • 4 months
  • 6 months (depending on type of vaccine)

Why It’s Important

Rotavirus causes gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the digestive system.  It can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever and pain.  It is spread through the mouth. 


Diphtheria, tetanus & acellular pertussis (DTaP)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 2 months AND
  • 4 months AND
  • 6 months AND
  • 15-18 months AND
  • 4-6 years

Why It’s Important

Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis are serious diseases caused by bacteria.  Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the throat and can lead to cardiovascular and breathing problems, paralysis and death.   It is spread through the air and direct contact. 

Tetanus, also called “lockjaw,” causes tightening of muscles throughout the body.  In the event the jaw locks, a person may be unable to swallow.  It can lead to breathing difficulties and even death.  It can be contracted through a cut in the skin. 

Pertussis is also referred to as whooping cough.  This disease causes intense coughing fits for infants and young children, leaving them unable to eat or drink.  Pertussis can lead to pneumonia and death.  It is highly contagious, spread through the air and direct contact. 

“The DTaP vaccine provides protection against several serious and highly contagious illnesses.  One of the avoidable reasons that pertussis cases have increased over the last twenty years is that more people are skipping this critical vaccine. Children have a significantly reduced risk of getting pertussis when parents follow the recommended schedule for DTaP vaccine.”  --Dr. R. Adrian Clarke, Pediatrics

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 2 months AND
  • 4 months AND
  • 6 months AND
  • 12-15 months

Why It’s Important

Hib disease is a bacterial disease that can lead to meningitis, pneumonia and death.  Before the Hib vaccine, Hib disease was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis infections in children under the age of 5.  It spreads through air and direct contact. 

Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13)

Vaccine Schedule

2 months AND

4 months AND

6 months AND

12-15 months

Why It’s Important

Pneumococcal disease can cause ear infections, bloodstream infections, meningitis and pneumonia.  The very young and older people are especially vulnerable to pneumonia.  It spreads through the air and direct contact. 

Polio: Inactivated poliovirus (IPV)

Vaccine Schedule

2 months AND

4 months AND

6-18 months AND

4-6 years

Why It’s Important

Polio is a devastating disease that can causes paralysis and death and was not uncommon in the first half of the 20th century.  The polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1955, and thanks to widespread vaccinations, polio was considered eradicated in the United States by 1979.  However, polio cases continue to be reported in some parts of the world, so immunizations remain absolutely necessary.

Influenza (IIV)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 6 months AND
  • Every year thereafter

Why It’s Important

The flu causes serious symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, extreme fatigue and headache.  Young children and older adults are especially susceptible to complications, such as pneumonia and even death.

The flu vaccine is updated each year to be as effective as possible against the flu virus strains anticipated.  Annual flu vaccines are generally available beginning in September.

Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 12-15 months AND
  • 4-6 years

Measles causes runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever and a rash that spreads all over the body.  Mumps causes flu-like symptoms and swollen salivary glands, while Rubella produces symptoms similar to measles.  All three diseases spread through air and direct contact. 

A highly contagious respiratory virus, measles used to be quite common; in fact, virtually all children used to contract the disease by the age of 15.  Measles vaccinations began in the mid-1950s and served to largely eliminate the disease as a common occurrence.  As with pertussis, however, there have been reports of measles occurrences in non-immunized children.  Measles cases have reached a 25-year high in the United States in 2019. 

“The increased reports of measles cases in the United States this year is deeply alarming. Measles is a serious disease that can lead to swelling of the brain, pneumonia and in some cases, death.  All children should receive the MMR vaccine on the recommended schedule, which will dramatically reduce risk of ever getting the disease.” 

-Dr.  Diana Dickschat, Pediatrics

Chickenpox: Varicella (VAR)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 12-15 months AND
  • 4-6 years

Why It’s Important

Chickenpox is highly contagious and spreads through air and direct contact. It causes a severe rash, fever and fatigue.  The virus that causes chickenpox can also cause shingles in adults.

First approved in the United States in 1995, the chickenpox vaccine is relatively new.  Chickenpox used to be very common, usually affecting children ages 10 and younger.  Before the vaccine, up to four million people contracted the illness each year in the United States. 

Hepatitis A (HepA)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 12-23 months (two doses, 6 months apart)

Why It’s Important

Hepatitis A attacks the liver.  It generally spreads through accidental ingestion of microscopic amounts of fecal matter.

Meningococcal (MenACWY)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 11-12 years AND
  • 16 years

Why It’s Important

There are several different forms of meningococcal disease, some of which can be prevented through vaccinations.  This disease causes meningitis, which attacks the central nervous system by infecting membranes on the brain and spinal cord.  It can also cause an infection of the bloodstream.       

Meningitis can be transmitted between teenagers and college students through sharing drinks, kissing and living in close quarters, such as a dorm. Meningitis is a highly contagious, dangerous illness that leads to death in 1 out of 10 cases.  Those who survive the disease often have very serious and lasting health conditions.  Vaccinations are the best way to prevent infection. 

Tetanus, diphtheria & acellular pertussis (Tdap)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 11-12 years

Why It’s Important

Tdap provides continued protection from the same diseases as the DTaP. 

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Vaccine Schedule

  • 11-12 years (girls and boys)

Why It’s Important

HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer and can also lead to cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum, throat, head and neck.  HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual contact.  The CDC reports that at least half of the sexually active population has HPV, and many who have it will never realize it. 

In most cases, HPV is harmless, but sometimes it can alter cells and cause cancer.  Parents should ask their child’s doctor about the HPV vaccine, as it can protect the child from HPV later in life.  The HPV vaccine dramatically reduces a girl’s odds of ever developing cervical cancer and protects boys, as well. 

Optional for Young Adults

Meningococcal B (MenB)

Vaccine Schedule

  • Young adults 16-18 years old who wish to receive the vaccine, after consultation with a physician

Why It’s Important

The MenB vaccine provides additional protection against a form of meningitis.

Adult Immunizations

While we receive most of our immunizations during childhood, there are some vaccines adults need to get, as well.  The following recommended immunization schedule is for most adults. 

Additional immunizations and/or a modified immunization schedule may be recommended by your physician based upon medical history and overall health.  For adults who did not receive or are unsure if they received certain vaccines in their youth, such as meningitis, HPV, chickenpox and MMR, they should discuss this with their provider, as it may be recommended to receive those vaccinations as an adult.

Influenza

Who Needs It & When

  • Everyone, once a year

Why It’s Important

At a minimum, the flu will cause you to feel miserable for a week or even longer.  For some people, it can lead to a hospitalization and even death.  Getting a flu shot is one of the best things you can do for your health.   

 

Tetanus, diphtheria & acellular pertussis (Tdap) 

Who Needs It & When

  • Any adult who did not receive a Tdap as a child (11-12 years) should receive one dose
  • Women who are pregnant should receive a Tdap between the 27th and 36th week of each pregnancy for the protection of the mother and baby
  • Family members and others who will be spending time around a newborn should receive a Tdap at least two weeks before the child is born for the child’s protection

Why It’s Important

Pertussis continues to be a significant health risk, with continued reports of the disease in the United States.  Since babies are especially vulnerable to the disease, a Tdap during pregnancy helps provide protection. 

Tetanus/diphtheria (Td)

Who Needs It & When

  • Once one has received a Tdap, regardless of age, everyone needs to get a Td booster every 10 years

Why It’s Important

Unlike other infections, tetanus does not spread from person to person.  It is a type of bacteria that live in soil, dust and manure and can enter the body through a superficial wound, even one as minor as a cut or scrape.  Getting a tetanus booster every 10 years is critical to protecting against this risk. 

Zoster (Shingles)

Who Needs It & When

  • Adults at age 50; two doses, 2-6 months apart

Why It’s Important

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.  If you have had the chickenpox – or the chickenpox vaccine – you are at risk for shingles. 

Pneumococcal (PCV13/PPSV23)

Who Needs It & When

  • Adults at age 65 AND
  • Second dose 1 year later

Why It’s Important

Senior citizens are much more susceptible to developing pneumonia, a severe respiratory illness that claims the lives of more than 50,000 Americans each year. 

“Remember, if you have questions or concerns about vaccines, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your physician.  Staying current on immunizations is one of the most important things you can do to protect your family’s health and your own,” says Dr. Michelle Kravitz, a pediatrician. 

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Dallas Morning News

The Texas Tribune