Get kids their back-to-school vaccines now – Billings Gazette

Get kids their back-to-school vaccines now


COVID-19 has slowed the immunization rates of infants and children. Nationwide this year, the number of routine childhood vaccinations given has dropped sharply. This is concerning — not just because of COVID-19. Before the novel coronavirus pandemic arrived, confirmed measles cases in the United States had increased from 375 in 2018 to 1,282 in 2019.

Measles cases continue to be reported in 2020. Children under 5 years old account for about half of measles cases. A community vaccination rate of 93% to 95% is necessary to prevent measles outbreaks. Being late or lax in vaccinating puts many who cannot be vaccinated at risk, including infants and those who are immunocompromised. Don’t delay getting caught up, ready for school and protected from bacteria and viruses what may be circulating.

Schools require vaccines. Children 4 to 6 years old entering kindergarten are required to get another polio vaccine, DtaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), a second MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and a second chicken pox vaccine. This is also a good time to start the hepatitis A series if not already done.

At age 11 or 12, those entering seventh grade are required to have a Tdap vaccination to prevent tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. The meningococcal and HPV (human papillomavirus) immunizations are highly recommended vaccines for adolescents entering seventh grade.

Meningitis, a serious bacterial disease, can be deadly in less than 24 hours. It is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Ten to 15 percent of those infected will die, and as many as 20 percent of those who survive will suffer permanent consequences such as hearing loss, kidney damage, brain damage, seizures, or amputations. The disease spreads person-to-person through close contact, by sharing drinks, coughing and kissing. It is more common when people live in close quarters, such as dormitories.

Two separate vaccines are available for preventing various subgroups of meningitis. One meningitis vaccine, usually given at age 11 or 12, covers four variations of the disease. At age 16, adolescents get a booster.

The second meningococcal immunization covers meningitis serogroup B. According to a 2015-2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 16- to 23-year-olds, meningitis B accounts for over 60 percent of all meningococcal cases. The preferred age for this two-shot series is 16-18 years. The two vaccinations are separated by one month.

Montana public schools require no new vaccines after students enter seventh grade. Without an annual visit to a healthcare provider, meningococcal vaccines for older teenagers are easily overlooked. With the two different meningitis vaccines available, teenagers acquire more than 90% protection from a potentially devastating disease.

If any of your children need back-to-school immunizations, start now. Long clinic waits are inevitable if you wait until the last two weeks before school starts.

Karmen Hammermeister, a registered nurse and immunization specialist at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406.247.3380 or