The Importance of Immunizations

Content brought to you by Henry Ford Health System

It's "back to school" time, which means it's also "back to the doctor's office" for the required immunizations and physicals to prepare your child for school. The most important school-age vaccine groups for children and teens are 4-6 years-old, 11-12 years-old and 16-year-olds. However, your college-age student may need vaccines or booster shots as well.

Due to some sensational stories in the media, some parents may be reluctant to immunize their children. But a widely-reported study that claimed that vaccines cause autism was discredited and the doctor who authored it lost his medical license as a result of falsifying the data.

"Immunizations save lives," says Bridget McArdle, D.O., a member of the Henry Ford Medical Group Department of Pediatrics with an office in Sterling Heights. "There is no link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. That's been totally debunked."

As with all medications, vaccines do carry some risks. Common reactions are fever and pain at the injection site. Dr. McArdle agrees with the majority of doctors who believe the risks are small when compared to the benefits of vaccines.

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"It's important to explain to parents that the benefits outweigh the risks," says Dr. McArdle.

Dr. McArdle is also a mother and has followed the immunization recommendations for her own children.

Parents often ask whether a child should receive shots when he or she is ill. Dr. McArdle says that children with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated. But children who are moderately or severely ill should wait until they recover before getting vaccines.

As of January 2014, Michigan schools are required to report the immunization status of all seventh-grade students. This is a change from the requirement of reporting sixth-grade students' status. The state believes that this change will "alleviate confusion caused by trying to vaccinate 11-year-old students by the time they enter sixth grade."

Back to school immunization boosters also apply to students heading off to college. Check with your child's college for individual requirements. Some colleges may ask for immunization records, which can be obtained from your doctor's office.

One frequently required college immunization is the meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine. Teens now need a booster dose at 16-17 years of age, and college students 18-21 years of age who haven't received the vaccine in the past five years should be immunized.

Dr. McArdle points out that meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord, cost "Dancing with the Stars" celebrity Amy Purdy both of her legs. "Meningitis can also lead to death," Dr. McArdle warned. "It's especially important to be immunized before starting college," she said. The close proximity of other students leads to an increased risk of developing the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the meningococcal vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines, except in rare cases.

Always discuss any vaccine concerns with your child's doctor, to work out the best plan. If you choose not to vaccinate your child, Michigan law requires that you have a signed immunization waiver form on file with your child's school.

To make an appointment with Dr. Bridget McArdle or another Henry Ford pediatrician in your area, log on to henryford.com or call 800-HENRYFORD.

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