Communications & Public Affairs
New Brunswick, NJ – Backpacks…check! Pencils, folders, glue sticks…check, check, check! Each year, the pilgrimage for new school supplies is a given as the summer draws to a close. But one thing you should be sure to include on your back-to-school checklist is a call to the pediatrician to ensure your child’s vaccinations are up to date, Rutgers pediatric infectious disease specialists say.
In fact, this step is one of the most important things parents can do to help protect their children’s health—and that of their classmates and their community—from serious and potentially life-threatening diseases such as polio, measles and whooping cough, they say.
Dr. Amisha Malhotra“Even today in 20016, we still see diseases that are vaccine-preventable, like measles, so it’s important to keep everybody up to date and protected,” says Dr. Amisha Malhotra, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group and associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (pictured, right).
Following proper vaccination schedules is important, regardless of a child’s age—whether he or she is just starting preschool, or in college, when meningococcal vaccines may be required, Dr. Malhotra adds.
“Once a child is older and no longer receiving the primary vaccination series—particularly in the pre-teen or teenage years—the idea of updating vaccinations can fall off a parent’s radar, or they may assume their child has had their vaccines when they still are in need of a booster,” she says. “It is important for every parent to be proactive for their kids and to be informed. Put a call in to your pediatrician to ask, ‘Is my child up to date on all of the vaccinations? Is there anything else we need to do?’”
Because required vaccines are age-dependent, and boosters and new vaccines—such as the meningococcal vaccines aimed at preventing meningitis B—are developed as your child gets older, staying in regular contact with your pediatrician about your child’s current vaccination needs is essential, she advises: “It’s simple, but very important.”
Dr. Malhotra also recommends parents request and keep copies of their child’s vaccinations from their pediatrician, so they always know exactly what doses of specific vaccines their child has received—and when. From the DTaP, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (better known as whooping cough), and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccines, to the annual flu shot, it’s important to be sure your child is protected from the most serious complications of these preventable diseases.
In the case of the flu, for example, although the flu vaccine does not provide 100 percent protection, it does prevent your child from getting deathly ill from influenza, explains Dr. Patricia M. Whitley-Williams, professor and chair of pediatrics and chief of the division of pediatric allergy, immunology, and infectious diseases, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (pictured, left). Every year, 30,000-40,000 deaths occur in the United States as a result of the flu, Dr. Whitley-Williams stressed.
“As a pediatric infectious disease specialist, I sometimes get referrals from pediatricians about parents who refuse to have their child immunized,” she says. “What I tell those parents is that by not having their child immunized, they really do risk the lives of other children. But if all healthy children receive the vaccinations, they would not only protect themselves, but also their families, their friends, and the public at large.
“This country has made a remarkable achievement in reducing the number of illnesses that are preventable by vaccinations,” Dr. Whitley-Williams adds. “Polio has not been seen in the United States in the past 30 years. We see little chicken pox. We see very little mumps. We certainly don’t see a lot of diphtheria or tetanus. Truly, this has been one of the greatest public health success stories in the country’s history.”
In New Jersey, state minimum requirements for immunization were developed in accordance with the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. A complete list of state immunization requirements, including for child care and preschool-age children, can be found at nj.gov/health/cd/imm.shtml.
In addition, parents can learn more about the CDC’s recommendations at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents.
As one of the nation's leading comprehensive medical schools, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in education, research, health care delivery, and the promotion of community health. Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the medical school's principal affiliate, comprise one of the nation's premier academic medical centers. In addition, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has 34 other hospital affiliates and ambulatory care sites throughout the region.
Part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School encompasses 21 basic science and clinical departments, hosts centers and institutes including The Cardiovascular Institute, the Child Health Institute of New Jersey and the Women’s Health Institute. The medical school maintains educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels on its campuses in New Brunswick and Piscataway and provides continuing education courses for health care professionals and community education programs. To learn more about Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, visit rwjms.rutgers.edu. Find us online at www.facebook.com/RWJMedicalSchool and www.twitter.com/RWJMS.