While much of the focus of back-to-school preparations is on purchasing new backpacks, pencils, and snacks for lunch, one essential aspect can get overlooked: vaccinations. Pediatrician Paula Tamashiro Tairaku, MD, of Bayside Medical Group – Brentwood and Bayside Medical Group – Walnut Creek, explains why back-to-school vaccinations are so important for your child and the community as a whole.
Required vaccines for school
When you have hundreds of kids together on a daily basis, they are sure to share germs. The occasional cold may not be a huge deal; however, there are many contagious illnesses that pose a significant health risk if not prevented. Outbreaks not only pose a threat to the children, families, and teachers, but also can lead to school closures and disruption of academic activities.
“Vaccination can help protect kids. You just need one unvaccinated kid to start spreading illness,” Dr. Tamashiro Tairaku shared. “If students are vaccinated, they are protecting themselves, other students, their families, and the people around them.”
Vaccinating children before they return to school helps prevent this increased health care burden. The California Department of Public Health requires a series of vaccinations for all children attending public or private school, from transitional kindergarten/kindergarten through 12th grade. Parents need to submit updated vaccination records for their children before the start of school each year.
Children attending TK/K–12 need the following vaccinations:
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP, DTP, Tdap, or Td)
- Polio (OPV or IPV)
- Hepatitis B
- Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
Kids starting seventh grade need:
- Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) —one dose
- Varicella (chickenpox)—two doses
Dr. Tamashiro Tairaku also suggests checking with your pediatrician regarding which vaccinations may be needed for your child.
Why back-to-school vaccines are important
According to Dr. Tamashiro Tairaku, vaccinations play an essential role in protecting children from severe illnesses and complications. Some diseases can lead to illness, hospitalization, lifelong complications, or even death. Children are at particular risk because their immune systems are still developing, so it is harder for them to fight off infections.
“Without vaccinations, there is a risk that kids will get exposed to a severe illness and then spread this to other people around them,” she said. “With vaccines, we reduce this risk for our own children and other children as well.”
Vaccines act as a shield for your child against various preventable diseases. They are designed to activate your child’s immune system so their body is prepared to fight off diseases like whooping cough (pertussis) or measles, for example, if they get exposed.
“The vaccines teach our body how to create antibodies to protect us from diseases,” Dr. Tamashiro Tairaku said. “It’s much safer for your body or immune system to learn this through vaccination than by getting the diseases and treating them. And once your body knows how to fight a disease, it will often protect you for many, many years.”
Getting your child vaccinated
Your first stop when it comes to vaccinations will typically be your child’s pediatrician. It’s a good idea to check in with them over the summer to see if your child is up to date on vaccinations. The doctor most likely provided any necessary immunizations at your child’s most recent well visit. So, the good news is that they may not need to get a shot before school.
“By the time the child is in school, they have already received many of the mandatory vaccines for school. The majority of children have received most of the vaccines in the first two years of life,” Dr. Tamashiro Tairaku explained.
For children who do need to get a vaccination before school starts, she recommends making the appointment at least two weeks before the start of school to make sure the child’s body has a chance to build immunity.
“We do have some patients who are catching up on vaccines. Keep in mind that the protection increases in the days following the dose; it’s not immediate. So, it may take seven to 14 days to develop protection after the final dose is given.”
Where to find vaccination records
According to Dr. Tamashiro Tairaku, there are a few ways that parents can get the vaccination records required by the school.
“One of them is your doctor’s office or clinic. They may have some records of your vaccination, especially if your child was vaccinated in that clinic. Some parents have a family baby book that may contain copies of the immunization records,” she said. “Another way is through the Digital Vaccine Record (DVR) portal. You can just enter a few details, and they will send you a link with the vaccination record.”
For more back-to-school tips, check out “Back to School: Jason Yeatman on How Children Learn to Read” or “Helping Kids Cope With Separation Anxiety.”