It’s vital to be up to date on all your immunizations. It’s also essential to ensure your whole family is prepared for back-to-school season, including required immunizations for school attendance. Here’s what to know about immunizations for yourself and your children.
Recommended Immunizations by Age Group
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts out regularly updated recommended immunization schedules. Here is what they recommend, divided by age group.
Please note: EHE Health does not provide immunizations for children under the age of 18.
Birth to Six Years
Your child will receive most vaccinations well before starting school, typically within the first 18 months of life. These include everything from MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) to varicella (chicken pox). Talk to your child’s pediatrician to develop an immunization schedule that works for your family. Depending on your plan, your child may not finish up these series until age four or so. Every child aged six months and above should also get an annual flu shot.
During the elementary school years, it’s important to take your child the pediatrician regularly. This is when your doctor can ensure they are meeting all age- appropriate milestones and can review all their vaccine records.
Your child may need a few more vaccines, especially if they have certain health conditions or have not received the appropriate ones from early childhood. They will also need to get the flu shot each year.
In addition to their annual flu shot, middle school kids also need a couple of other immunizations. These will include one dose of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine, two doses of the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, and one shot of the meningitis vaccine.
Besides a yearly flu shot, all high school students should get a booster dose of the meningitis vaccine. This is also a great time to catch up on any immunizations that have not yet been received.
For healthy adults who have had all their recommended childhood vaccines, immunizations will largely depend on your age and individual circumstances. In general, all adults should receive a yearly flu shot and a Tdap booster every 10 years. In addition, many adults were not vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, HPV, or chickenpox as children. Talk to your doctor about whether you should get these vaccines.
Adults over age 50 should also get two doses of the shingles vaccine, while those over age 65 need two pneumonia shots. Your doctor may also have additional recommendations depending on your age, risk factors, and if you are on certain medications.
Required Immunizations for School Attendance
Every state sets its own guidelines for mandatory immunizations for children to attend school. Check with your state health department for specific guidance. Private schools may or may not follow the state guidelines, so it’s best to ask the school directly for its immunization policy.
COVID-19 is still very much a public health threat. Although the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are fully FDA-approved, there is a lot of misinformation and even fear. From the CDC, here is what you need to know about vaccinating yourself and your kids against COVID-19.
Everyone aged six months and above should be vaccinated with one of the two mRNA vaccines. The Janssen vaccine is no longer recommended except in limited circumstances, and those who received it should consider a booster shot with an mRNA vaccine.
The amount of vaccine in each dose varies by age group and manufacturer. Please see your doctor to decide which one is best for you. Generally, those under age 18 taking a Moderna vaccine need two doses, while those over 18 and everyone taking a Pfizer vaccine needs three doses. If you’re over age 50, you will need a fourth dose. If you are immunocompromised, talk to your doctor about how many doses are right for you.
In the United States, immunizations go through an extensive process of human clinical trials before being released to the public. You can trust that they are safe and effective when given according to FDA and CDC recommendations. Side effects such as fever or muscle pain are common with many vaccines but are mild and self-limited.
Of course, it is possible to develop an allergy or other reaction to nearly anything. It’s a smart idea to learn the common side effects of each immunization you or your child will receive, as well as the potential signs of a more severe reaction. In addition, you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before vaccination if you have any known allergies.
Your doctor or pharmacist might make recommendations that are specific to you or your child’s individual health status. For example, those with asthma or other health conditions should generally receive a flu injection instead of the nasal mist immunization. Always ask a medical professional for advice rather than relying on what you might hear on social media or other unofficial sources.
Timing Your Child’s Immunizations
Because many vaccines have side effects that are mild but unpleasant, it’s generally best to get them out of the way before the school year begins. In addition, it can take up to 14 days for complete protection to develop. For these reasons, many parents like to schedule their kids’ immunizations for a Friday afternoon in late summer. This gives them the weekend to resolve any minor side effects and enough time to be fully protected before returning to school.
Of course, immunizations are not the only thing you need to think about before your child goes back to school. Both kids and adults need an annual physical, a yearly dental checkup, and an appointment with the eye doctor every two years. Adolescent girls and young women typically should also see a gynecologist once a year in addition to seeing their primary care doctor. After speaking with your doctors, depending on your history and risk factors, you may be able to see your gynecologist less often.
A host of preventive care screenings are covered as essential benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This means that if you have insurance, whether privately or through your state or federal Health Care Exchange, you and your kids are eligible for annual wellness visits and preventive care with no copay, even if you haven’t met your deductible. These services range from immunizations to HIV tests to mental health screenings, so it only makes sense to take advantage of the benefits each year.