Focus on Your Health: Understanding the importance of vaccinating children 

Dr. Amy Pelletier, DO, Pediatrics at Baystate Health, says vaccines are given on a schedule for the primary reason of protecting children from preventable disease. Children who are not vaccinated on schedule are at risk of getting sick and of spreading illnesses to others who are not protected.

Dr. Amy Pelletier, DO, Pediatrics at Baystate Health, says vaccines are given on a schedule for the primary reason of protecting children from preventable disease. Children who are not vaccinated on schedule are at risk of getting sick and of spreading illnesses to others who are not protected. PEXELS/CDC

By ANITA FRITZ

For the Recorder

Published: 08-25-2023 11:56 AM

Some of you may recognize my name as I was a reporter for the Recorder for 20 years. I have since joined the team at Baystate Franklin Medical Center as its senior specialist for public affairs and community relations.

Each month, I will be bringing you helpful information from Baystate Health doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals about specific health topics.

My goal is to provide you with as much information as possible to help keep you healthy, which aligns with the Baystate Health mission: to improve the health of the people in our communities every day, with quality and compassion. Watch for this column once a month; I hope you enjoy it, and that you learn something new.

As we head into back-to-school season, here is some essential information on the importance of vaccinations.

Vaccinations

Dr. Amy Pelletier, DO, Pediatrics at Baystate Health, says vaccines are given on a schedule for the primary reason of protecting children from preventable disease. Children who are not vaccinated on schedule are at risk of getting sick and of spreading illnesses to others who are not protected.

“Experts designed the schedule so that children get protection when they need it, and the doses are timed so the vaccine itself can have the best effect. All vaccinations are mandatory for school, except for HPV,” Dr. Pelletier explains.

Vaccinations have been protecting children and adults from diseases, including smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) and chickenpox, for a long time. The reason some people aren’t familiar with those illnesses is because of vaccines and their effectiveness.

“All vaccines are important for the protection of children,” says Dr. Pelletier. “When children are not vaccinated, they have a much higher risk of having serious infections that can be prevented. Unvaccinated children may also undergo invasive tests to determine cause of illness when they are not vaccinated.”

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Dr. Pelletier says not only does not being vaccinated affect the child, but it can also put others at risk, as well. When enough of the community is vaccinated, it makes disease less likely to spread.

“There are minimal risks of being vaccinated,” she explains. “The risk of a complication of the disease is always higher than the risk of the vaccine.”

How do vaccines work?

Illnesses are caused by germs (bacteria or viruses) that invade or infect the body. The body’s immune system fights the infection with white blood cells. Vaccines use antigens — molecules present on all viruses — to train the immune system to identify threats and produce antibodies.

According to the CDC, the first time the body encounters a germ, it can take several days to make and use all the germ-fighting tools needed to get over the infection. After the infection, the immune system remembers what it learned about how to protect the body against that disease.

Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize and fight viruses or bacteria. They develop immunity — the ability to resist an infection — by imitating infections.

Dr. Pelletier says the message to parents and guardians is that their children should be on regular schedules of vaccination and wellness visits so that those children, as well as people around them, are protected.

If your child is due — or overdue — for a well-child visit or vaccines, call your pediatrician today to book an appointment. Getting back on track ahead of the new school year will protect your child, your family, and your community from preventable illnesses.

Schedule of vaccinations for school-age children

Age four: Diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (Dtap), polio, measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), varicella

Age nine: HPV (two series vaccine given six months apart)

Age 11: Tdap and menactra

Age 16: Second menactra

Annually: Flu and COVID vaccines

For a full list of vaccines from birth, visit: https://www.baystatehealth.org/news/2023/06/vaccine-schedule-for-children

See you next month and stay well!

Anita Fritz is a lifelong resident of Franklin County. She was a reporter for the Greenfield Recorder for 20 years. She is currently the senior specialist for public affairs and community relations for Baystate Franklin Medical Center.