Include vaccines in your back-to-school plan

July 13, 2023 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • Many states require certain vaccines for children to enter school or daycare.

  • Research continues to prove that vaccines are effective and safe in children.

  • Pediatrician Jacqueline Hunziker, M.D., weighs in on required and recommended vaccinations and debunks common myths around vaccines.

Students across the country are preparing to go back to school. And parents are busy making sure children have everything they need to be ready for a successful year.

Are your child’s up-to-date vaccines and required health forms on the list?

The new school year is the best time to make sure your child has all their recommended routine vaccines for their age, and state law requires children to have certain vaccines to enter school. That goes for little ones entering in-person daycare or preschool and students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

States may have different requirements for vaccines for school-age children so be sure to check your local health department and discuss it with your pediatrician. The most common required vaccines include:

  • Hepatitis B (HepB)
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTap or Tdap)
  • Poliovirus (IPV)
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
  • Varicella (VAR)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics also recommend other vaccines throughout childhood. See the recommended immunization schedule here.

Keeping kids up-to-date on all their recommended vaccines not only keeps them healthy but helps prevent major outbreaks in the community.

“Vaccines have played an important role in our society eliminating very serious diseases, like polio and smallpox, and getting much better control on illnesses such as measles,” explains Jacqueline Hunziker, M.D., a Providence Swedish pediatrician. “Keeping children and adolescents up to date on all their recommended vaccines not only keeps them healthy but helps prevent major outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the community.”

Separating vaccine fact from fiction

Digging through the information surrounding vaccines can be challenging for parents, especially when it feels like so much of the information is conflicting.

“It can be overwhelming for parents to figure out fact from fiction when it comes to vaccines,” acknowledges Dr. Hunziker. “Parents want to make the best decision for their child. That’s difficult when faced with conflicting information.”

The first step Dr. Hunziker takes when evaluating the latest research on vaccines is to identify the experts in the field.

“When it comes to vaccines, professionals who have studied, trained and researched in the vaccine field are the experts,” she states. “When you are doing your own research, be sure to investigate any claims you read and validate using multiple reliable sources.”

Dr. Hunziker encourages parents to ask their child’s pediatrician about any questions they may have. Medical professionals can help put context around medical studies and point out other reputable sources of information, such as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the CDC.

Vaccines boost immune systems

Vaccines not only help prevent serious illness in children, but they also boost your child’s immune system. They help your child’s immune system learn how to fight against many different infectious diseases so that if, or when, they are exposed to germs that cause an illness like rotavirus, influenza or chicken pox, they’re ready and able to fight them off.

Fast fact: The CDC estimates that the vaccination of children born between 1994 and 2018 will prevent 419 million illnesses and eight million hospitalizations.

Vaccines are safe

Vaccinations go through a rigorous process to ensure they are safe and effective. This is true even after a vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is a national reporting system for tracking side effects and safety related to any vaccine. Individuals and physicians who experience or observe any adverse effects are encouraged to report them so that trends and concerning side effects can be evaluated and used to halt use or spur additional research.

“We continue to study and learn about the safety of our vaccines,” says Dr. Hunziker. “This entire process assures our vaccinations are safe and effective for children – and should provide great peace of mind to parents.”

Fast fact: The development of a vaccine takes several volunteers and extensive research, especially when evaluating safety for children.  

Vaccines are not linked to autism

In 1998, a study was published in The Lancet that claimed a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism in children. Reporters and celebrities quickly jumped on the story and were, understandably, outraged.

However, that study was critically flawed for many reasons, including that those researchers picked and chose from data that would support their claim. The Lancet eventually retracted the article in 2008. Still, the uproar continued. Some parents continue to be concerned that vaccines are linked to autism, despite overwhelming research that has found no connection between the two.

Fast fact: Regular and intensive research continues to prove that vaccines do not cause autism

COVID-19 vaccines and kids

While cases have waned significantly since the height of the pandemic, COVID-19 remains a concern for many parents. Currently, the CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for everyone six months and older and boosters for children six years and older. Stay up to date on the latest vaccine recommendations from the CDC.

“I recommend that all children ages 12 and older get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster to be up to date with CDC recommendations,” states Dr. Hunziker. “The vaccine protects them from COVID-19 and its variants. It also builds community protection so that we can continue to move closer to normalcy in schools and life.”

Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine tend to be mild for adults and children. The most common side effects include:

  • Tenderness at the injection site
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

While rare, there have been cases of anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction, with the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC recommends vaccination sites monitor patients for 15 minutes after vaccination or 30 minutes if the individual has a history of anaphylaxis.

“Still, the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective against what can be a very serious illness, even among young people,” she finishes.

Contributing Caregiver

Jacqueline Hunziker, M.D., a Providence Swedish pediatrician at Swedish Medical Center

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Related resources

Learn how vaccines save lives this World Immunization Week

Get your child caught up on their wellness visits

Is your teen getting enough sleep? How parents can help.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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