Back-to-School Vaccines Your Kids Need

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on March 31, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

photo of vaccine

As kids head back to school it’s an ideal time to follow up on their vaccinations. Stan Spinner, MD, chief medical officer and vice president at Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care, explains which shots are due for children in the school years.

For All Ages

Spinner urges parents of school-age children to get them a flu shot every fall. Some children under 9 need two doses. Multiple flu strains circulate each year, and the vaccine can protect against several strains, but doesn’t always cover all of them. “It may not prevent your child from getting the flu, but it will likely prevent them from getting hospitalized because of it,” Spinner says. Flu can progress into pneumonia, a serious lung infection.

Before Kindergarten

Most children ages 4 to 6 need a DTaP booster, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The polio vaccine has eradicated polio in the United States, but it still exists in other parts of the world and can cause paralysis and permanent disability. This age group also receives a dose of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Measles is highly contagious, Spinner says, and can lead to complications including life-threatening pneumonia.

The varicella (chicken pox) vaccine is also recommended for the kindergarten crowd. Highly contagious, chicken pox is usually a mild illness with an itchy, uncomfortable rash that can lead to secondary skin infections. Contracting chicken pox raises your risk of developing the painful rash known as shingles at some time in your life, Spinner says.

Middle School

Around age 11, kids are due for a DTaP booster, and their first vaccine against meningococcal disease, which can affect the bloodstream, brain, and spinal cord, and is a particular risk in college dorms.

At age 11, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that all children -- girls and boys -- receive their first dose of the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, although kids may receive it as early as 9, Spinner says. All kids need two doses separated by 6 to 12 months. HPV causes cervical cancer in women and head and neck cancers in both men and women. “To be clear, this is a cancer vaccine,” Spinner says, which can protect your child against these cancers as an adult.

High School

Your child will be ready for a booster of the meningococcal vaccine at age 16. Spinner adds that many families choose at this age to have their teens vaccinated against meningitis B as well.

Questions to Ask Your Pediatrician

What can I do to make vaccinations less painful for my child?

Spinner recommends distraction at shot time: Chat with your child about their day or show them a funny YouTube video. Spinner once worked with a nurse who gave kids shots first thing during their appointment, giving them less time to feel nervous. Other doctors apply a topical anesthetic called 4% lidocaine cream on the child’s arm before the shots.

What’s at stake if I don’t vaccinate my child?

Failure to vaccinate puts your child -- and the community -- at risk for potentially serious diseases, Spinner says. Ask your doctor what you can expect if your child contracts one of these diseases. “Vaccines are safe and provide significant protection,” Spinner says. “Next to clean water, vaccines are the No. 1 thing that protects the health of the community.”

Where can I get good information about vaccines and childhood diseases?

For reliable information, Spinner recommends, the site for parents from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Show Sources


Stan Spinner, MD, pediatrician and chief medical officer and vice president at Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care, Houston.

American Lung Association: “What is the Connection Between Influenza and Pneumonia?”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Key Facts about Seasonal Flu Vaccine,” “Shingles (Herpes Zoster).” “DTaP Vaccine: What You Need to Know,” “Meningococcal ACWY Vaccines: What You Need to Know,” “Polio: What You Need to Know,” “Protecting Your Baby from a Measles Outbreak FAQs,” “The Flu.”

Mayo Clinic: “HPV Vaccine: Who needs it, how it works.”

Remy, V. Journal of Market Access and Health Policy, August 12, 2015.


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