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Back-to-school season means your kids — and preteens — need vaccinations

Back-to-school season is here.

It’s time for parents to gather school supplies and get sports physicals. It’s also time to make sure your children’s vaccines are up to date.

Vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children and teens from 16 potentially harmful diseases, including measles, meningitis and whooping cough. Vaccine-preventable diseases can be serious, may require hospitalization or can even be deadly — especially in infants and people with weakened immune systems because of cancer and other health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 900,000 people in the United States get pneumococcal pneumonia every year, leading to as many as 400,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 deaths.

For more info about immunizations:

• For 2017-18 Kansas School Immunization requirements, visit ldchealth.org and click on Immunizations.

• Immunizations are available on a walk-in basis at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department during clinic hours. No appointment is necessary. Parents are encouraged to bring their children’s immunizations records with them.

• The Health Department participates in the Vaccines for Children Program, which allows the department to provide vaccines at no cost to children who are uninsured or if their insurance doesn’t cover vaccinations. Parents must bring written proof from the insurance company that vaccinations are not covered.

“Getting vaccinated according to the recommended immunization schedule is one of the most important things a parent can do to protect their child’s health,” said Kim Ens, director of clinic services at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. “If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to check with your child’s health care provider to find out what vaccines your child needs.”

Child care facilities, preschool programs, schools and colleges are prone to outbreaks of infectious diseases, and children can easily spread illnesses to one another due to poor hand washing, not covering their coughs and simply being close to one another.

Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino, of Mt. Oread Family Practice, said vaccines are the safest and most effective way to prevent diseases. They not only protect the people who are vaccinated but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases.

“I make sure my children are up to date on their vaccinations,” he said, “and I strongly encourage my patients to do the same.”

Additionally, Marcellino reminds parents that preteens need three vaccinations at the ages of 11 or 12, as well as a yearly flu shot. Those vaccinations are:

• Meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against four types of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease is an uncommon but serious disease that can cause infections of the brain lining, spinal cord and blood. Because protection decreases over time, a booster dose is recommended at age 16 so teens continue to have protection during the ages when they are at highest risk for getting meningococcal disease.

• HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine, which protects against cancers caused by HPV infection. HPV infection can cause cervix, vagina and vulva cancer in women, penis cancer in men and cancers of the anus and back of the throat for women and men. Preteens should receive all recommended doses long before they begin any type of sexual activity. The vaccine is most effective when given at ages 11 or 12.

• Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Tetanus and diphtheria are uncommon now because of vaccines, but they can be very serious. Whooping cough is common and on the rise in the United States. It can keep students out of school and activities for weeks, but it is most dangerous — and sometimes even deadly — for babies who can catch it from family members.

Additionally, teens and young adults, ages 16 through 23, are encouraged to receive a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine.

“As children get older, they are at increased risk for some infections. Plus, the protection provided by some of the childhood vaccines begins to wear off,” Marcellino said. “So it’s important to get your preteens vaccinated.”

— Karrey Britt is the communications coordinator for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

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