By Carolyn Cook, RN Mobile Immunization Clinic at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center
As school lets outs for summer, now is the perfect time to get a jumpstart on childhood vaccinations required before schools starts again this fall.
While shots aren’t as fun as chasing the ice cream truck or splashing around at Owen Beach, it’s smart to get vaccinations out of the way rather than wait until the last minute, when procrastinating parents rush to get their children caught up on vaccinations required by the state of Washington.
A new federal study says that Washington state has the highest rate of parents exempting their children from vaccines. The report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a first of its kind, says that 6.2 percent of kindergarteners in the state have parent-signed exemptions for one or more vaccines for diseases such as polio, whooping cough, measles hepatitis B and chickenpox.
Why get vaccinated now?
In the week before school starts, many doctor’s offices don’t have appointments available and some clinic wait times can stretch into hours. Take advantage of the lull of summer: there’s more time for personal attention. We can help answer any questions and explain which vaccines are required at which ages. If you’re looking for added incentive, the office is air conditioned and kids leave with a lollipop.
What if I don’t have health insurance or can’t afford it?
For people who don’t have health insurance or worry about cost, free vaccinations are available.
The MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Mobile Immunization Clinic travels throughout Pierce County and provides free immunizations to all children from birth through 18 years of age. For more information about the Mobile Immunization Clinic, call 253.403.1767 or visit multicare.org/marybridge/mobile-immunization-clinic. There are no fees and no insurance co-pays. These vaccines are completely free.
MultiCare Mobile Health Services offers health screenings and immunizations for adults and children. Vaccines are offered at a low or no-cost basis if income qualifications are met. More information is avialable by calling 253.697.4010 or visiting multicare.org/mobile-health-services.
Are there any free vaccines for adults?
Whooping cough vaccine is available at no charge from Mary Bridge to anyone caring for an infant younger than 1 who is uninsured or cannot afford the vaccine. It is important that all caregivers are immunized so they do not pass on the disease to babies.
What ages are required to be vaccinated?
Children are due for a series of immunizations between the ages of 4 and 6, and again at between the ages of 11 and 12, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some vaccines due at these ages are also required by the state Department of Health before the first day of kindergarten and before the start of sixth grade.
Children must be at least 4 years old to receive their kindergarten shots, and at least 11 years old to obtain their sixth-grade shots.
Are there any new vaccinations that are recommended for older children or teens?
For teens younger than 19 who are about to head off to college this fall, the CDC now recommends a second dose of meningitis vaccine. The vaccine for HPV (human papillomavirus) is also available for both girls and boys.
Why do some people not get vaccinations?
Some parents might be overwhelmed, may be new to the area, or perhaps they haven’t kept up with regular physician visits for their child. They may lack health insurance or fear there’s a cost. Others might have unanswered questions about vaccines. Not having a regular family doctor, a lack of medical insurance and a lack of transportation are not barriers to getting children’s immunizations. The most important thing to understand is that there are risks to not immunizing your child. There’s real danger. I recommend that all children be immunized against all 14 serious diseases that the CDC recommends.
What if I don’t want to get all the vaccines recommended by the CDC?
I see some people who don’t want to get all their vaccines, only what’s required in school, which I don’t support because school vaccines are minimal and they’re not according to the medical recommendations. The medical recommendations are designed to protect your child. School requirements are designed to prevent disease from spreading to other people. So you want to do everything you can to protect your child.
If you do exempt your child, if there is an outbreak of something, your child has to stay out of school until two weeks after the last person is diagnosed with the disease. This past year, there was an outbreak of pertussis in several Tacoma schools and they had to cancel a lot of sporting events to prevent the disease from spreading.
What does state law say about childhood vaccinations?
This month, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill requiring a parent or guardian to show that they have received information from a health care provider on the benefits and risks of immunization before opting out of school vaccination requirements. Beginning July 22, 2011, parents or guardians who want to exempt their child from school or child care immunization requirements must fill out and submit the updated Certificate of Exemption form to their school or childcare.
A health care provider does not need to sign the Certificate of Exemption form for parents or guardians who show membership in a church or religious group that does not allow a health care provider to provide medical care to a child.
Why are vaccinations important?
Unvaccinated kids are more likely to catch and spread serious illnesses like whooping cough and measles, which can be prevented by vaccines, according to the state Department of Health. Making sure kids have all recommended immunizations protects them, their classmates, friends, and families from preventable diseases. Kids who aren’t fully immunized may be excluded from attending school, preschool, or child care if a disease outbreak occurs.
“Childhood immunizations save lives and are one of the most effective ways to protect kids from serious, preventable illnesses,” said state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “There’s a lot of confusing information about vaccine circulating around, this law makes sure that parents will get reliable facts from one of their most trusted sources — a health care provider.”
What should I bring with me for vaccinations?
Please bring your child’s shot record with you. For the safety of your child it is important for the immunization nurse to know what shots your child has already received and when they were given. If vaccines have been missed in the past, it’s never too late to get children caught up.
Carolyn Cook, RN, runs the MultiCare Mary Bridge Mobile Immunization Clinic for MultiCare Health System.