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Back to School: Your Immunization Update

by Deb Fulghum Bruce, PhD

A vital step all parents can take to keep their children well is to get the recommended immunizations. Childhood vaccines contain an inactivated (killed) agent or a weakened live organism and help children develop antibodies or protection against specific infections. Childhood immunizations offer excellent protection against serious diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rotavirus, rubella, Haemophilus influenzae type b (a major cause of bacterial meningitis), chicken pox (varicella), hepatitis and human papillomavirus (HPV).

How Do Vaccines Work?

An injection with inactive germs encourages the immune system to respond without causing severe illness. The immune system then “remembers” that type of germ, and will attack and kill it very quickly if it encounters it again in the future.

Do Vaccinations Have Risks?

Understandably many parents are worried about the risks that are feared to accompany vaccinations. Vaccines do come with risks, and they always have since the earliest inoculations for small pox.  However, most doctors believe that a parent’s misperception that the threat of the vaccine is greater than the risk of the illness is a far more serious concern. When parents fail to vaccinate their children, the risk of serious—even deadly—disease epidemics extends beyond you and your family to your neighborhood or even community. Failure to vaccinate as prescribed by public health experts only lays the foundation for new epidemics that could result in serious harm to your child. For instance, a decline in vaccination rates in some European countries has led to fatal outbreaks of measles.

What Do Childhood Immunizations Fight?

  • Chicken pox (varicella) - an infection caused by a herpes-type virus that causes itchy, pimple-like blisters over the entire body, along with headache, fever, and body aches.
  • Diphtheria - a serious infection of the tonsils and upper respiratory tract that is transmitted the same way as a cold.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b. - a respiratory-tract infection that causes fever and chills. This infection is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, a serious condition that can cause mental retardation.
  • Hepatitis A - an infection to the liver that is spread orally from fecal matter from an infected person.
  • Hepatitis B - a viral infection that spreads through blood and other bodily fluids that can lead to chronic liver damage.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - a viral infection that is spread through sex and leads to cervical cancer and genital warts.
  • Influenza - a viral respiratory infection that can lead to secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia.
  • Meningococcal disease - a bacteria that can lead to meningitis, an infection of the lining around the brain and spinal cord and septicemia, an infection of the blood stream.
  • Measles - a benign viral infection that causes cold symptoms, fever, and a red, itchy rash over the entire body.
  • Mumps - usually a benign illness that causes swelling of the salivary glands in the cheeks, fever, and sore throat.
  • Pertussis (whooping cough) - a respiratory tract infection that is transmitted like a cold and causes months of chronic coughing.
  • Polio - a virus that causes spinal cord inflammation, sore throat, muscle stiffness, headache, fever, vomiting, and in some strains paralysis.
  • Pneumococcal disease - a bacteria that is a common cause of ear infections. This potentially serious and deadly infection can lead to pneumococcal meningitis and pneumonia.
  • Rotavirus - a virus that causes symptoms of diarrhea, fever and vomiting and can quickly lead to dehydration.
  • Rubella - an infection that starts with an itchy face rash. Rubella is serious for pregnant women and can cause miscarriage and birth defects.
  • Tetanus - a bacterium that gets in a deep wound and causes serious paralysis, shutting down the central nervous system.

Immunization Support at a Pharmacy

Many pharmacists are trained to administer, manage and recommend vaccines to keep your entire family healthy. Vaccines include flu, hepatitis, shingles, whooping cough, tetanus, human papillomavirus, meningitis, pneumonia and more. Talk to your pharmacist about an immunization screenings.