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Your Kid Needs Immunizations For School: What You Need to Know.

So your child has started school, or started at a new school. You’ve provided all the information they asked for but the school nurse calls and sends a letter home saying that your kid needs immunizations. *Eye roll*, you thought you were all set but now you have to make a doctors appointment and drag everyone over there to get shots and no one is happy about it.

So whats the deal with this? What shots does your kid need? Why do they need more of them? Why can’t they just go to school with the ones they already have? Why do they even need to have any of them at all?

There is a lot of chatter in recent years about whether or not to vaccinate and what’s wrong (or right) about doing it but the fact is that whether or not you want to vaccinate, if you want your child to attend most schools aside from home-school or cyber school, you’re gonna have to get the important vaccines. There are currently options for exemptions from them which I will get into in a bit, but some of those exemptions are already in question and may not fly for much longer.

So why does your kid need vaccines? The short answer is that vaccines help protect people from getting certain diseases or illnesses. While nothing is 100% effective, they are pretty good at keeping those illnesses away or at least making it so that if you DO get one of them it will be far milder than if you had no vaccines. Another reason is that there are people who can not get immunizations for medical reasons (too young, allergic to the vaccine, has a health problem that the vaccine would make them really sick) so when other people are protected it helps protect those people who can’t be vaccinated.

What do vaccines even do? When you are given a vaccine, they are giving your body either a synthetic (created in a lab) or a weakened live version of the thing they are vaccinating against. Your body finds out that there is an “invader” and goes after that germ to fight it and get rid of it. The great thing about or bodies is that once we have fought off that germ, our blood cells remember it and fight it off very quickly if we ever get exposed again. This is one reason why we sometimes get a little bit sick after getting vaccines – your body is building an immunity so it can fight better later.

So what vaccines does your kid need to go to school? There are CDC and Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that are nationwide, and recommendations that may differ from one district to another for what immunizations your child needs to attend school. The requirements for my district are:

  • DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) : Diphtheria is a potentially fatal disease that affects your throat and swallowing. It can cause damage to your heart and death. It is mostly gone now because of the vaccine. Tetanus is the disease we all know about that you can get from a rusty nail or other dirty cuts. It causes severe and painful contractions of muscles and can cause death. It is also rare because of the vaccine. Pertussis is better known as Whooping Cough which is a very serious respiratory illness. It has made a comeback in recent years and it is recommended that we all get booster shots for this. It is required that kids have 5 DTaP shots – the last one being after their 4th birthday.
  • Polio : Polio is a virus that affects your spinal cord and can cause permanent paralysis or disablement. It can be deadly. It is also pretty rare now because of the vaccine. The requirement is 4 Polio vaccines, the last one after the 4th birthday.
  • Hepatitis B : Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver. It is usually acquired by an infected needle stick, sharing of infected needles, sexual contact, or passed from mother to baby during pregnancy. It can cause permanent damage to your liver and lead to liver failure. It is wise to have the vaccines as infants or children well before potential exposure. It is required to have 3 doses at a specific interval.
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) : Measles is a respiratory virus that causes a rash, fever and potentially can lead to encephalitis (infection in the brain) and pneumonia. It is rare because of the vaccine but still around with recent outbreaks across America. Mumps is a viral infection of the salivary glands in the mouth and neck. It can lead to hearing loss. Rubella, also known as German Measles is similar to Measles. Students are required to have two MMR vaccines – one after the 1st birthday and one after the 4th birthday.
  • Varicella (Chickenpox) : Chickenpox is a respiratory virus that has a very itchy blistery rash all over, fever and cough. While usually thought of as a relatively mild childhood disease that we all had, it can lead to pneumonia, infection and death. Students are required to have 2 vaccines – one after the 1st birthday and one after the 4th birthday.
  • Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) : a booster of the DTaP that is given after the 11th birthday.
  • Meningococcal (MCV4, MenB) : Meningitis is an infection in the brain and spinal cord. It can be deadly. It is highly contagious and spreads easily in places like school, college, camp, home, or prisons where people are in close proximity to each other for extended periods of time. The MCV4 is required at ages 11 and 16. MenB is not required by every district but it is wise to get.
  • Additional immunizations that are not required by most schools but are part of the routine immunization schedule and wise to receive are: Pneumococcal (4 doses), Hib (Haemophilus Influenza, 4 doses), Rotavirus (3 doses before 9 months old), HPV (Human Papillomavirus, 3 doses), and Flu shot (1 dose every year).
  • This is the recommended schedule by the CDC:
  • This explains all the diseases that we should be vaccinated against:

In order to attend school in my district, your child is required to have at least one of all the required vaccines for their age and also a written plan for getting the rest of them. If you do not get the required immunizations or have a schedule planned with the doctor then the district has the right to exclude your child from school until plans have been made or vaccines have been given.

This will link you to the Philadelphia School District web page about immunizations including forms you may need and what is required:

You may choose to defer immunizations for religious or medical reasons. Medical reasons usually consist of an allergy to a vaccine, a person who has a poor immune system and the doctor says it would not be safe to get those vaccines, or the doctor feels that they have had enough to be immune to that disease. Be aware if you do choose this and there is an outbreak of anything your child is not immunized against that they will not be allowed to come to school during that outbreak, even if they are well. There is a specific legal form that must be filled out and presented to the school nurse for exemptions to be allowed.

There is also an option for “philosophical exemption” currently but that may not be permitted soon, and is already not permitted in some states.

There are multiple options for getting the vaccines needed. You can go to your pediatrician for a routine checkup and get them then, or schedule a visit for just the vaccines. Your school nurse can help you find a public health center if you don’t have a pediatrician or if you don’t have insurance. Your school nurse or public health center can also help you with insurance if that is a problem. There are resources available to help those in need.

PCCY will help you with insurance and medical resources and referrals in Philadelphia:

You can find Philadelphia city health clinics here: Greater Philadelphia Health Action is a great resource in Philly for health care needs. They have medical, mental health and pharmacy.

TL/DR: Vaccines are helpful. Your kid needs vaccines for school. Talk to your school nurse for specific information.

Published by Emme Mauer M.Ed., BSN, RN, CSN

Mom to two preemies, anxiety sufferer, postpartum depression survivor, and school nurse extraordinaire.

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