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While the overwhelming majority of parents in the U.S. get their children vaccinated according to schedule, about 1 percent of children do not receive any vaccines, leaving them at the risk of contracting serious, even deadly, diseases.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from January through mid-October of this year, about 32,000 cases of whooping cough were reported, along with 16 deaths, most of them infants.
In addition, every fall, thousands of children are barred from starting classes because their immunization records are not up to date.
Some parents balk at vaccinations and shots for mumps, measles and other typical childhood illnesses as unnecessary or potentially dangerous because of possible allergic reactions. And there is no federal vaccination requirement, but each state has regulations, all 50 states require certain vaccinations for children entering public schools for all or most of the following diseases: mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and polio.
Parents and guardians should keep a copy of children’s vaccination records, including a list of the dates they received their shots and when renewals are required. This is especially important if your child does not have a regular pediatrician or if you have changed doctors. Files do not always get transferred from one doctor to another in a timely manner and while your copy may not be considered an official file, it serves as an indicator to the school that you have been keeping up with the shots and it gives you a starting place to call to request records be sent to the school and your new doctor.
The CDC provides a list of vaccination requirements by state.
Dr. Iyabode Akinsanya-Beysolow, a Medical Officer in the Education, Information and Partnership Branch of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, is part of a program to provide continuing education to health care providers about immunizations and encourage them to urge patients to get their children vaccinated.
Beysolow’s responsibilities include the development and implementation of immunization education and training materials for vaccine providers, presentations at courses and lectures on vaccine-preventable diseases as well as web-based and net conferences.
In addition to standard vaccinations, Beysolow also has reported in various forums that the CDC also encourages children 6 months of age through age 18 also get an annual flu vaccination.
In preschool and elementary school particularly, children should also get flu vaccines and you should make sure other family members and caregivers have had their shots as well. Flu nasal spray often is available and is considered extremely effective, if you want to avoid shots. Review the Childhood Immunization Schedule (found on the CDC website) to determine what vaccines your children need and when the doses should be administered.
Adolescents are at increased risk for meningitis and some sexually transmitted diseases, such as HPV. Doctors generally recommend vaccinations around the ages of 11 and 12. Booster shots also should be updated for other diseases, such as whooping cough, because the protection wears off over time.
Outbreaks of some of these diseases—like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles—still occur in areas across the United States. Whooping cough can take a toll on anyone, but it can be deadly for young children. Today, there are cases in every state, and the country is on track to have the most reported cases since 1959.
In 2011, 222 people were reported to have measles in the United States – that’s more than any year since 1996. Measles is brought into the United States by unvaccinated U.S. residents and foreign visitors who get infected when they are in other countries. Measles is still common in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Measles spreads easily, and it can be serious, causing hospitalization and even death. Young children are at highest risk for serious complications from measles.
Eligible families can get assistance paying for vaccines through the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC). This federal program provides free vaccines for children without health insurance or those that meet other eligibility criteria. Parents can call 1-800-CDC-INFO to get more information about VFC.
For more information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, parents can visit cdc.gov/vaccines or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.