Check vaccines off your back-to-school to-do list

This opinion piece by Dr. Rachel Young appeared in the Lansing State Journal. Read more here.

The typical signs of the end of summer include department stores putting up their school supply displays, seeking out the best children’s shoe sales and annual physicals at the pediatrician. When you’re at your child’s routine doctor’s appointment this year, make sure that you get them caught up on their vaccines.

As an osteopathic family physician, I talk to families every day about how to keep their children safe from the spread of disease, and every day I say the same thing — vaccinate.

Vaccines protect our children and teens from 16 different diseases by age 18, and routine immunizations are estimated to prevent 419 million illnesses and 8 million hospitalizations in children born between 1994 and 2018.

One of the most common questions I get asked by parents is, “Why should I use the recommended vaccine schedule?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a recommended schedule for childhood immunizations. The schedule is in place to help make sure that communities stay ahead of outbreaks. Children who do not follow the recommended schedule are at higher risk of developing diseases during the time that the shots are delayed. If you’re behind on the schedule, your physician will give you information about the best way to get caught up before school so you can keep your child’s classroom protected.

Another question I hear often is, “Aren’t most vaccine-preventable illnesses rare anyways?”

When many parents think of vaccine-preventable illnesses, they think of diseases like polio and measles — diseases of our ‘past.’ Illnesses like these are rare now because of vaccines. Unfortunately, those diseases aren’t that far behind us, and the United States recently confirmed the first case of polio in nearly a decade. Furthermore, diseases like chickenpox and whooping cough are still common in the United States and are also preventable with vaccines.

No matter how rare a disease may seem, spread is possible when there are unvaccinated individuals in a community.

As a doctor, my main goal is to keep my patients healthy. One of the easiest ways I am able to do that, thanks to decades of research and work by the medical community, is by offering vaccinations. But I cannot keep my patients healthy alone. As a community, we must work together to keep our most vulnerable protected.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all learned that working together is the best way to overcome hardships. Just like the COVID-19 vaccine, routine childhood immunizations on the CDC’s recommended schedule benefit the community by keeping disease at bay. When you vaccinate your child, you are also looking out for your child’s classmates and teacher.

We all want our kids to have as normal a school year as possible after more than two years of virtual and hybrid classes, but the only way we can do that is by getting children vaccinated ahead of the first day. It is up to us as parents to do what is best for our kids. For me, that’s getting them vaccinated.

As a physician, but also as a mother, my anxiety is put to rest knowing that when our children walk into school on the first day this year, they are going to be completely prepared with their new backpack, sneakers and vaccines.

Dr. Rachel Young is an osteopathic family physician with McLaren Greater Lansing.

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I Vaccinate provides information and tools based on real medical science and research to help Michigan parents protect their kids. Support is provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Franny Strong Foundation.

You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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