The start of a new school year means that children—especially younger ones—will be exposed to a variety of diseases. Some, such as the common cold, can’t be reliably prevented; but a good many can, which is why it’s important to keep your child’s immunizations up to date.
“Starting off the school year with an up-to-date immunization schedule is a safe and effective way to safeguard your kids from many serious and potentially deadly diseases,” says provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
“By the time a child reaches five or six years old, he or she should have received booster shots that protect against measles, polio, chicken pox, whooping cough, and more, and kids in grades 6 and 9 should receive follow-up vaccinations. This is all part of B.C.’s free, routine immunization program.
“It is thanks to routine vaccinations that many of these diseases seem like distant threats; however, as we’ve seen with recent whooping cough and measles outbreaks, they still exist. They spread quickly among those who are not immunized, can cause serious complications, and can be life-threatening.”
Students entering kindergarten in Fort St. James are expected to have had booster shots that supplement their infant series of vaccinations (at two, four, six, 12, and 18 months). However, some parents might be unsure how up-to-date their children’s immunizations, Pene Berthelsen, a Public Health nurse at the clinic in Fort St. James, says all parents have to do is call the clinic (250-996-7178), and staff will check. If necessary, parents can then make an appointment to schedule any “catch-up” shots that are needed.
“The approach we take is that vaccinations are for a person’s health, but they’re also about protecting your community,” says Bethelsen. “There’s the odd person who can’t have a vaccination, and if everyone else does then it protects them. It’s herd immunity.”
Kendall notes that parents of children enrolling in kindergarten should provide a copy of the child’s immunization record. “If someone at school contracts a vaccine-preventable infectious disease, children who are not immunized may have to stay home until it is safe.” It is not mandatory for parents in B.C. to provide this information, although Kendall joins the Canadian Medical Association in urging this province to join Ontario and New Brunswick, where parents are required to show vaccination information when enrolling children in school.
Kendall says that having easy access to vaccination records gives healthcare professionals a way to identify parents whose children haven’t been immunized, so that they can be spoken to to help clear up any misinformation or misunderstanding. “We can tell them the facts and what is real and what is not real, and hopefully convince a good proportion of them that what they’re actually fearing is either unreal or not scientifically valid, or is in fact a misplaced fear.”
And it’s not just children who need to keep their vaccinations up to date; grown-ups need to watch out. “Adults should be getting tetanus shots every 10 years,” says Berthelsen, “to help prevent illness.”