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August 22, 2016

Your Child's Most Important School Prep

by Amanda MacMillan

It’s back-to-school season: time to start stocking up on spiral notebooks, checking that school clothes still fit -- and making sure your children are current on their vaccines. Staying on schedule with immunizations should be a regular part of your kids’ annual check-ups, and in New York State and New York City (as in most of the country), being properly vaccinated is required if they attend a school or child-care center.

These laws are in place to keep children safe from dangerous diseases, but many parents may still wonder why they're necessary. After all, needles can be scary -- especially for kids -- so shouldn’t you be sure there’s a good reason for them?

As a matter of fact, the evidence in favor of vaccines has never been stronger, says Kristofer Smith, MD, acting chief medical officer of CareConnect (and senior vice president and medical director of Northwell Health Solutions), so parents should feel confident following the current guidelines. In honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, here are four big reasons he says vaccines are so important for your kids.

1. They’re safe. Today’s vaccines are safer than ever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with years of testing and monitoring going into every formula on the market. Like any medication, vaccines can sometimes cause side effects, but serious complications are extremely rare.

Some parents may worry about a supposed link between vaccines and autism. But that question was raised by one small study from 1998 that has since been proven false; the journal that originally published it has said that it contained so many errors, it should never have been published in the first place. The idea has been disproven many times since then.

2. They guard against serious illnesses. “Not only is the data unequivocal that vaccines are safe, but it’s also pretty clear that the things they protect against are decidedly unsafe,” says Smith. “One of the great advances in medical care over the last 75 years has been finding a way to prevent these horrible diseases.”

And vaccine-preventable illnesses are indeed horrible. They don't just make children mildly sick or uncomfortable; they can lead to serious -- and potentially fatal -- complications like pneumonia and sepsis. For every 1,000 children who develop measles, for example, one or two will die.

3. They protect other kids who can’t be vaccinated. If your children are healthy enough to receive vaccines, consider them lucky. Some kids with weakened immune systems -- like those who are undergoing chemotherapy or who have a chronic disease -- may not be. “That puts them at risk for illnesses like mumps and measles, which can spread quickly through communities where vaccination rates are low,” says Smith.

By vaccinating your kids, you contribute to what’s known as herd immunity -- meaning that unvaccinated children will stay safe because children in the “herd” around them won’t contract contagious diseases in the first place.

4. It’s the law. Sending your child to public or private school in New York means getting them vaccinated – it’s that simple. (Exemptions may be made for families who are able to show sincere religious objections to vaccinations, or when a child has a documented medical condition that makes getting vaccinated unsafe.)

Want to know more about vaccine safety? Don’t hesitate to ask. “As doctors,” says Smith, “our job is to partner with patients and parents to make sure we understand their concerns and help them feel comfortable.”