The Number One Way to Keep Your Kids Safe at School

Measles, mumps and other preventable diseases are on the rise again. Here's how to keep your kids safe.

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School supplies and new clothes aren't the only back-to-school essentials. Childhood vaccinations also top the list of September must-haves. Whether you're dropping your young one off at preschool or shuttling a high school graduate off to college, getting your children immunized on time will help them stay healthy long after the school year ends.

Vaccines protect individuals from infectious diseases like measles and mumps, but staying up to date on your child's immunizations can also help keep the school and community healthy too. Children that are too young to be immunized, have medical conditions that make vaccinations unsafe or don't respond well to certain vaccines are better protected if children around them have immunity.

Every school's immunization policy is a bit different, and most requirements vary by state, but there are a number of must-get vaccines. Brush up on shot knowledge and help your student get fully prepared for the first day.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

Diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP)

2 / 10 Diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP)

The DTaP vaccine protects against three serious bacterial diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Diphtheria is characterized by a thick coating in the back of the throat and can cause breathing trouble, heart failure and paralysis. Tetanus causes the body's muscles to tighten, which can lead to jaw cramping, spasms, seizures, headaches and blood pressure and heartrate changes. Complications include trouble breathing, pneumonia, infections contracted during hospital visits, pulmonary embolisms and even death if left untreated. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a respiratory illness marked by coughing fits that can last for weeks and prevent infants from eating, drinking and breathing. Pneumonia, seizures and brain damage are all possible repercussions of the condition.

Children should receive five doses of the DTaP vaccine between 2 months and 6 years and a booster known as Tdap between ages 11 and 12. If your child misses a recommended shot, for one reason or another, the immunization schedule will be different, so it's important to consult your young one's healthcare provider.

DTaP has virtually eliminated childhood cases of tetanus and diphtheria and reduced instances of pertussis, but there are some mild risks. Fatigue, fever, tenderness at injection site and loss of appetite are common after immunization, but subside quickly.

The immunization isn't safe for everyone. Children who have a life-threatening allergic reaction to DTaP or experience a brain or nervous system disease within a week of the shot should not receive another dose. Children sick with a severe cold or flu should wait to be vaccinated.

Inactivated poliovirus

3 / 10 Inactivated poliovirus

It’s recommended that children be vaccinated against polio with a four-dose series between 2 months and 6 years. Polio is a disease caused by a virus spread through contact with an infected person or by consuming food contaminated with the feces of someone who has been infected. Prior to the vaccine’s introduction in 1955, polio killed thousands of Americans each year. Polio has been eliminated in the US for almost 40 years, but still affects people in a few other countries, making immunizations important for keeping the US disease free.

Side effects of this vaccine—and any others—are possible, although infrequently serious, and may include injection-site soreness and shoulder pain. Serious allergic reactions to any immunizations are rare but possible, and any child who exhibits signs like trouble breathing, dizziness or fainting, rapid heartbeat or low blood pressure should be checked immediately by a health professional.

Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

4 / 10 Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella, diseases which are highly contagious and easily spread. Measles typically presents with a fever, cough, runny nose and a rash that covers the entirety of the body. The condition can lead to pneumonia, diarrhea and rarely, brain damage. Mumps cause head and muscle aches, fatigue and swollen and tender salivary glands, which are located below the ears on both sides of the face, but inflammation can happen on one or both sides. The virus can cause brain and spinal cord swelling, deafness, testicular and ovarian swelling and miscarriage. Rubella virus is characterized by a fever, sore throat, rash and eye irritation. The condition can increase miscarriage risk in pregnant women and leads to arthritis in nearly half of teen girls and women who contract the disease.

Most children should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine—the first between 12 and 15 months and a second between 4 and 6 years, but those who miss the recommended age targets should be immunized with two doses at least 4 weeks apart. The vaccine isn't suitable for everyone, including those with allergies or a weakened immune system caused by HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy or radiation. Tell your child's doctor is there's a family history of immune disorders, your child has a bleeding condition or bruises easily, has tuberculosis or has received a blood transfusion within the last 90 days.

Hepatitis B

5 / 10 Hepatitis B

Between birth and 18 months, children should receive three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine to help ward off the virus that causes liver inflammation and symptoms like a fever, chills, body aches, pale stool, dark urine and jaundice. Immunization is especially important during childhood; adults typically recovery fully from exposure to the virus, but it's more likely children will develop a chronic infection. Long-term complications include liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis, which leaves the liver permanently scarred.

Certain circumstances can change when a child should be vaccinated. Healthy infants born to mothers who test negative for the hepatitis B antigen should receive their first dose within 24 hours of birth. Newborns with a low birth weight—under 4.4 pounds—will receive their first shot at 1 month or upon being discharged from the hospital. The vaccine will be administered within 12 hours of birth to children born to mothers with hepatitis B, regardless of weight. A pregnant woman with hepatitis B can transmit the disease during birth, and one-fourth of infected newborns will eventually succumb to liver disease caused by the virus. Speedy vaccination can help prevent this.

Most often, side effects are mild and include injection site tenderness, headaches, fever and fatigue. If your newborn or child has a severe allergic reaction to the initial dose, speak with your doctor about whether they should continue with the immunization.

Varicella (chickenpox)

6 / 10 Varicella (chickenpox)

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease characterized by itchy blisters covering the body (or a portion of the body), fever and fatigue. Cases of chickenpox are common in the US and usually require no treatment, but the condition can be uncomfortable. In rare cases, it can lead to infections, dehydration, pneumonia or brain swelling. Infants whose mothers haven't had the disease or vaccine, children with a compromised immune system and those taking steroid medications for conditions like asthma are at a higher risk for complications.

The surest prevention method is the varicella or chickenpox vaccine, and children should receive two doses, the first between 12 and 15 months and the second between 4 and 6 years, although the second dose can be give as early as 3 months after the first. Although it's recommended to have children vaccinated on time, children of all ages can receive the vaccine.

The vaccine is safe and effective for most, but parents of children who develop a severe allergy to the vaccine or who have conditions or are taking medications that compromise their immune systems should consult the child's doctor about potential risks.

Haemophilus influenzae type b

7 / 10 Haemophilus influenzae type b

The Haemophilus influenzae type b or Hib vaccine protects against a type of bacteria that can cause meningitis or brain and spinal cord swelling, pneumonia, severe throat swelling and even death. The bacteria typically affects children under 5 years of age, so immunization is recommended beginning at 2 months. Depending on the specific brand of vaccine, some children may need up to four doses, while others will need three. Children on the three- and four-dose series should receive a shot at 2 months, 4 months and between 12 and 15 months. Those receiving a fourth shot will also get a dose at 6 months.

There are a number of special circumstances that could change the vaccination recommendations, so speak with your child's doctor if your young one was born with HIV or is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Pneumococcal conjugate

8 / 10 Pneumococcal conjugate

Pneumococcal disease can cause ear infections, but it can also lead to more serious concerns like lung or blood infections or brain and spinal cord swelling (meningitis). Although pneumococcal pneumonia most often affects adults, children who contract pneumococcal disease that leads to meningitis might experience deafness and brain damage and in 10 percent of cases, death. Before the vaccine's existence, the US experienced 700 meningitis cases, 13,000 blood infections and 200 deaths each year among children under 5 years of age; cases have now been reduced by 88 percent.

Children under 2 years of age should receive four doses of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and again between 12 and 15 months. Most children have only minor reactions to the vaccine, which may include drowsiness, mild fever and swelling, redness or tenderness at the injection site, but reactions can happen and may include severe shoulder pain or an allergic reaction.

Children who miss recommended doses should still be vaccinated—it's never too late. Speak with a healthcare provider for next steps if your child is behind schedule.


9 / 10 Meningococcal

The Neisseria meningitidis bacteria can cause brain and spinal cord swelling, known as meningitis, or a blood infection, called bacteremia or septicemia. Meningococcal disease can cause rapid organ failure and become deadly very quickly. In young ones, symptoms include fever, irritability, lethargy and poor eating. Even with treatment, 10 or 15 percent of people will die, and those who do survive often endure loss of limbs, deafness or brain damage.

To safeguard your children from these diseases, they should be immunized between 11 and 12 years of age with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine and receive a booster shot at 16 years old. Teens between 16 and 18 may also receive a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, which can be given at a younger age to those with certain disorders, a damaged or removed spleen or who are taking Soliris. Both types of meningococcal vaccines can cause the same side effects as many other immunizations, like soreness and redness where the shot was given. Those who should not receive the vaccine include children who've had a severe allergic reaction to a previous meningococcal vaccine or one of the vaccine's ingredients. Parents of children with serious allergies of any kind—to this or any other vaccine—should speak with a healthcare provider before getting them vaccinated.


10 / 10 Influenza

Anybody can get the seasonal flu, a viral infection that wreaks havoc on the respiratory system, and can cause high fever, muscle aches, nasal congestion, a sore throat and a dry cough. The influenza virus can spread when an infected person coughs, talks or sneezes and children can infect one another during the school day. Not everyone who contracts the flu will have a severe case, but children under the age of 5, and especially those under 2 years old, are at a higher risk. Thousands of US kids are hospitalized annually for related complications, and getting the vaccine can help lessen the likelihood of the sickness and reduce severity of symptoms if you do get it.

A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for most people, excluding children younger than 6 months and those allergic to the vaccine or any of its ingredients. Young children who get immunized for the first time will likely need an extra dose. Children between 6 months and 8 years of age who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time, should receive two doses separated by at least 28 days. A single dose is recommended every year thereafter. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests getting the flu vaccine before the end of October, although there is still benefit to being vaccinated any time during flu season.

For guidance on when or why to vaccinate your child for these and other diseases, speak with your family doctor.

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