Protect Your Kids: The Importance of Immunizations

Written by Bob LaMendola, Community Affairs, Florida Department of Health in Broward County.

When prestigious Merck Manual named its 100 most important medical breakthroughs of the 20th Century, No. 2 on the list was large-scale vaccinations against infectious diseases – right behind the No. 1 advance, antibiotics.

“Heart transplants are very dramatic, but how many does that help? Vaccinations have prevented millions of deaths,” said the Merck editor, Dr. Robert Berkow.

Mass immunization campaigns have proven so safe and successful that few parents – even doctors – have seen measles, mumps, chickenpox or a dozen other fast-spreading killers from the 1900s.

“Vaccines have helped us wipe out diseases that used to kill our children by the thousands,” says Dr. Paula Thaqi, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Broward County (DOH-Broward). “But cases are occurring among unvaccinated children. Vaccines are safe and effective. Parents who want to protect their children should have them fully immunized.”

The best place to get children inoculated is by your health care provider. Parents concerned about vaccine costs should know that federal law requires health insurers to cover all recommended vaccines for free, although some doctors charge for an office visit to administer them.

Families who lack health coverage can get free or low-cost vaccinations from DOH-Broward. The state requires all students to have their shots before they can enter school.

Required shots are:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) – Four or five doses of DTaP vaccine are given to babies and pre-schoolers to prevent these bacterial diseases. A booster dose, TDaP, is given before seventh grade.
  • Polio – Three to five doses are given to babies and pre-schoolers against the virus.
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) – Two doses of MMR vaccine are given to babies and pre-schoolers to protect against these viruses.
  • Varicella (chickenpox) – Two doses are given to babies and pre-schoolers. A booster dose is given before seventh grade. Among adults, varicella virus can re-emerge and cause the painful skin condition called shingles.
  • Hepatitis B – Three doses are given to babies to ward off the virus.

Additional vaccines are not required for school but are critical to protect babies and children:

  • Annual flu vaccine – Either a shot or nasal mist, starting at age six months.
  • Rotavirus – Three doses for babies.
  • Haemophilus influenzae B – Three or four doses for babies.
  • Pneumococcal disease – Four doses for babies.
  • Hepatitis A – Two doses for babies.

Broward County immunization rates for school-aged children are improving. More than 94 percent of kindergarteners and 96 percent of seventh graders had all their shots as of fall 2015.

However, some families fall behind in protecting their babies under age 2. A state survey in 2015 found that 16 percent of Broward babies did not have all their shots. DOH-Broward has implemented Shots by 2, a program sends families reminder postcards whenever their baby is due for a shot.

Protecting adolescents is crucial, as well. DOH-Broward has a project emphasizing the need for the vaccine against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer and other malignancies. Girls and boys can start the three-dose vaccine at age 11.

HPV vaccination rates are low. In 2013, only half of Florida girls and 28 percent of Florida boys got a first dose of HPV vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Only 34 percent of girls and 13 percent of boys got all three doses. Rates in South Florida are thought to be similar.

“The HPV vaccine is cancer prevention,” Thaqi says.

Also recommended starting at age 11 is vaccine against meningitis, a potential killer that often strikes teens and college students.

The Children’s Services Council of Broward County is an independent taxing authority which was established by a public referendum on September 5, 2000, and reauthorized via referendum on November 4, 2014, which, through Public Act, Chapter 2000-461 of the laws of Florida, authorized the Council to levy up to 0.5 mills of property taxes. The role of the Council is to provide the leadership, advocacy and resources necessary to enhance children’s lives and empower them to become responsible, productive adults through collaborative planning and funding of a continuum of quality care. To learn more about programs and services the Children’s Services Council funds, please call (954) 377-1000.  

Above content provided by Children’s Services Council of Broward County.

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