Back To School Health
Immunizations Your Kids Need with Dr. Donee Patterson, Director of Medical Community Outreach, Einstein Healthcare Network
Shooting for good health means getting immunization shots, says Dr. Donee Patterson, director of medical community outreach for Einstein Healthcare Network. From infancy through young adulthood, back to school means back to the doctor’s office to receive what could be life-saving vaccinations.
How do immunization shots work?
“Immunizations boost our immune system to attack certain individual pathogens,” Patterson explains. “When we get the vaccination, we are exposed to a very small dose of the virus. That triggers our body to develop an army that forms a defense and will attack the virus in the future. If we are exposed to that virus in the future, our immune system already has the army to fight it and doesn’t have to build up a defense from scratch.”
There are two kinds of vaccines: active and inactive.
“Scientists have tried all sorts of ways to get vaccines to be effective and one of them is through having some viruses active, which means they are live, and some inactive, or dead,” Patterson says. “Obviously, it’d be great if all vaccinations were done with inactive viruses, but not all immunizing is effective that way. With live vaccines, the organism is in an extremely weakened form that is just enough to get your body to mount a defense to fight the virus and form immunity to it. Those weakened forms may cause a low-grade fever or achiness, but do not generally cause major illnesses.”
Do children really need all of the immunization shots? Aren’t a lot of the diseases extinct?
Unfortunately, these illness are alive and well and can affect people of all ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10,000-25,000 cases of whooping cough are reported each year. A 2012 epidemic resulted in 600 cases in Pennsylvania. Meningitis is also a dangerous and very contagious infectious disease. Most colleges require students to receive the vaccine before entering college, especially if they will be staying in dorms which means large groups of people living together.
MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), HIB (Haemophilus Influenzae Type B), and Varicella (chicken pox) vaccines are necessary and, in most schools, mandatory. “You might think that a vaccine is an inconvenience or that you won’t ever be sick,” Patterson says, “but it is easier to keep your immunizations up-to-date than to be hospitalized for days or even have long term illness.”
Are HPV immunizations necessary — for boys and girls?
HPV vaccines are recommended but not yet mandatory, Patterson explains. The vaccine has the four types of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer in women, Patterson explains. It is administered in a series of three shots over six months. “The studies evaluating HPV vaccines showed that they are 70 - 75 percent effective in preventing vaginal and vulvar cancers,” she says. “HPV is sexually transmitted and men can be carriers, so the vaccines are advised for girls and boys who are over age 9. The goal is to give the vaccine and build up immunity before he or she is sexually active.”
Parents should be informed about the vaccines so their children have lifelong immunity and talk to their healthcare providers if they have questions, Patterson advises. “It is our responsibility to safeguard our children’s health and having updated immunizations is an important part of that,” she believes.