Getting vaccinated can help stop measles from spreading
Children throughout South Florida have started a new school year. In addition to purchasing supplies required by your child’s teacher, this is also a good time to make sure your child is up to date on his vaccines.
Vaccines are studied rigorously and must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before becoming available to the public. Some children, including those with cancer and immune system deficiencies, cannot receive certain vaccines. They rely on community immunity to stay safe.
Community immunity stems from having the majority of the population immunized to keep the incidence of the disease low. When immunization rates drop, we see outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and hepatitis A. Below are some diseases that vaccines can help prevent:
Hepatitis A — South Florida is currently experiencing an outbreak of Hepatitis A, a virus that targets the liver, and causes jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), fever, vomiting, and tiredness. It is spread through contaminated food. Your child can and should be vaccinated as early as 12 months old, but it is never too late to start for older kids or adults.
Measles — Measles outbreaks are occurring across the country and the world. Measles causes fever, rash, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis and can result in serious complications like pneumonia, deafness, brain damage and death.
Luckily, we can prevent measles with a highly effective vaccine, which also protects against the mumps and rubella. It is routinely administered at 12 months of age. For families planning to travel, the vaccine can be given as early as 6 months of age.
HPV — The human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) prevents cancer of the throat, penis, vagina, and cervix, as well as genital warts. The goal is to vaccinate children before exposure to the human papillomavirus so they are protected if they are exposed to this pervasive virus in the future. That is why we vaccinate at 11 years old.
Meningitis — Meningitis is an infection of the tissues around the brain and spinal cord, which can result in brain death, deafness or death. We vaccinate against four strains of meningitis at 11-12 years old, with a booster at 16 years old. Another vaccine against a fifth strain is given at 16 years old, with a booster one to six months later.
Flu — Most cases of influenza — or “the flu” — may feel like a bad cold, with fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea. Yet, thousands of children every year are hospitalized with severe flu. Tragically, every year we see deaths due to the flu.
People younger than 5 years of age or older than 65, as well as anyone with a chronic disease such as asthma, sickle cell anemia, or epilepsy are most at risk. There are new strains of the flu virus every year, so each year starting in the fall getting a flu vaccine is recommended. The flu shot is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age, especially kids under 5 years old, people with a chronic illness, pregnant women, and people over 65 years old.
For more information, please visit cdc.gov/vaccines. Parents whose children are uninsured or may have trouble accessing adequate medical care and vaccines may qualify for free services provided at the University of Miami Pediatric Mobile Clinic. Please call 305-243-6407 to schedule an appointment.
Valerie Peicher, M.D., is a pediatric physician in her third post-graduate year with the University of Miami Department of Pediatrics.