It’s time to catch up on childhood immunizations

Cropped shot of doctor putting a bandaid on a child's arm after vaccination

Childhood vaccination rates have declined significantly both nationally and in Tennessee in recent years. Those declines have been tied to a reappearance of diseases, including measles mumps and tuberculosis.

“Immunizations are important because they help decrease the incidence of preventable disease and illness not only in those being vaccinated, but for everyone,” says Dr. Sharon Moore-Caldwell, a physician and medical director for BlueCare Tennessee. “So, while they’re for your child’s protection, getting children appropriately vaccinated will make your whole community healthier.”

WellTuned spoke with Dr. Moore-Caldwell to learn more about herd immunity, vaccination schedules and how parents can help their children stay on track with their vaccines.

Understanding herd immunity

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: When large percentage of people become immune to a disease (either naturally or through vaccination), the population as a whole is protected. This is known as herd immunity (or community immunity). This happens because effective vaccination gives diseases little opportunity to spread. The immunization rates necessary to achieve herd immunity vary by disease. For measles, a vaccination rate of 95% is necessary to achieve herd immunity. For polio, it’s 80%.

Understanding the schedule of childhood immunizations

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has developed a schedule of vaccines that are recommended for babies and children as they grow up. They start at birth, with a dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine, and run all the way up through your child’s 18th birthday.

Some vaccines are actually a series of doses, like the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, & acellular pertussis) vaccine, which requires five doses over time. Or like the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which can help prevent common types of HPV and 90% of cancers caused by HPV. This vaccine works better the earlier it’s given, so HPV vaccine dosing can start at age 9. 

The schedule is updated annually and includes the seasonal flu vaccine.

7 facts about the flu shot

Understanding vaccine safety and requirements

Vaccines are studied for safety and effectiveness on an ongoing basis. While some parents fear that vaccines could have adverse affects on children, expert research continues to confirm that they are safe and effective.

In Tennessee, certain vaccines are required for children attending child care, pre-school and school – including college. The state requirements follow CDC guidelines, which are endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The state also notes specific instances in which exemptions from these requirements are permitted.

You can catch up on vaccinations

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: Many people over the last few years fell behind on regular health care appointments – whether due to COVID-19 or for other reasons. As a result, children may have missed or fallen behind on their scheduled vaccines. The good news is that it’s easy to get current. The CDC has a “catch up immunization schedule” for those starting late or falling more than a month behind on immunizations. It is a tool for healthcare providers to use so they can help children get back on schedule in a safe way.

Take advantage of well-child visits

Dr. Moore-Caldwell: Now is a great time to schedule a well-child exam with your healthcare provider. These appointments are a great opportunity to get caught up on vaccinations if you’ve gotten behind. The well-child exam is truly a head-to-toe look at your child’s health and well-being. It’s a great chance for parents to ask any questions they may have. And of course, they are also a prime opportunity for your child to get any vaccines they may need.

More from Dr. Sharon Moore-Caldwell on WellTuned.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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