(BPT) – Fall is an exciting time for kids – seeing old friends, getting to know new classmates, learning new skills and exploring classrooms. But with all this fun and interaction, it’s important to remember one of the best ways to keep your child safe and healthy is to make sure he or she is up to date on their vaccinations. Vaccines have made many once-common serious childhood diseases rare today. They are safe, effective and they save lives.
‘It’s critical to make sure that you and your children receive vaccinations according to the schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control,’ says John Meigs, Jr., MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. ‘Vaccines are important not only for school-age children, but for babies and young children, pregnant women, teens and pre-teens, adults and seniors.’
How exactly do vaccines work? According to the patient education website familydoctor.org, ‘Vaccines contain weakened versions of a virus or versions that look like a virus (called antigens). This means the antigens cannot produce the signs or symptoms of the disease, but they do stimulate the immune system to create antibodies. These antibodies help protect you if you are exposed to the virus in the future.’
Much like how an athlete trains to prepare for competition, vaccines train your immune system to respond in case the body is exposed to the virus. If it is, it knows exactly how to fight it off. Vaccines help you stay healthy, and if you do get sick, it might be less severe or for less time when compared to others who have not been immunized.
The CDC lists recommended immunizations for the prevention of 17 diseases to protect people from birth through old age. All states require children to be vaccinated against certain communicable diseases in order to attend school.
Information about recommended immunization schedules for people of all ages is available at familydoctor.org. On aafp.org, you can find an interactive map showing vaccine-specific coverage levels for each state.
If anyone in your family is behind on their vaccinations, it’s easy to catch up. Speak with your family physician about creating a plan. You might even be able to schedule vaccine-only visits, meaning you won’t even need an exam.
Concerned about costs? Vaccines are typically covered by health insurance, so it’s likely you won’t have to pay anything. If you don’t have health insurance, reach out to your state public health department. Many offer assistance programs that provide vaccines at a reduced cost.
Visit familydoctor.org for health information the whole family can use.
* Paul A. Offit, MD, talks about the recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, including whopping cough, measles and mumps infections, and whether parents can find out about immunization rates in their children’s schools. Visit the Vaccine Education Center to learn more about vaccines, http://vaccine.chop.edu.
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