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Stephanie Thomas

Stephanie Thomas

Liver failure. Paralysis. Blood infection. Cancer. Each of these conditions is serious. Each is life-impacting. And each—to some extent—can be prevented through safe, scientifically proven, and medically recommended vaccines.

This topic can be a controversial one, but the outcomes of vaccination on a global scale cannot be argued: thanks to immunizations, children and adults alike are able to live longer and healthier lives.

Vaccinations are frequently associated with infants and children—and for good reason. The CDC-recommended vaccines administered in the first 18 months of a child's life help their bodies build up the antibodies that will protect them for a lifetime. These antibodies will fight off deadly diseases within a child’s own body, as well as helping to keep others, particularly those with compromised immune systems, safe.

That’s why most schools require proof of immunization for all students and have special requirements for those children who do not receive vaccines. Earlier this year, Montana communities were alerted to an enhanced risk of measles. Parents were notified that if their child had not been vaccinated against the disease, they would not be allowed to attend school for an extended period.

The immunizations recommended in the first 18 months include those which fight against hepatitis, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio—all of which are life-threatening diseases. Immunizations for rotavirus, influenza B, chickenpox, and pneumococcus are also recommended. A yearly influenza shot is also recommended.

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When it's time to start kindergarten, children also get what are referred to as "booster" shots. These immunizations are designed to enhance those that a child received while in infancy. Again, these include vaccines for polio, measles, chickenpox, and other highly contagious and serious diseases.

As kids move into junior high, a second series of booster shots is recommended. In addition, both girls and boys are encouraged to receive immunization against HPV—the human papillomavirus connected to cervical, neck, and other cancers. We also encourage parents to vaccinate their children against meningitis beginning in this age group. A booster in high school can then follow.

One thing that many people may not consider is the need for vaccinations as adults. These include immunizations required for college-age students and special types of vaccinations necessary to travel to certain countries. Tetanus shots should be received at least every ten years, along with other health-protecting boosters. In the last several years, vaccinations have been introduced to help those 50 and up prevent shingles, a painful rash caused by a viral infection. Pneumonia vaccinations are recommended for everyone after age 65 and for younger people with chronic lung diseases like asthma, those who smoke, and others who have additional chronic medical issues.

This information may seem overwhelming—especially to new parents. That’s why talking to your healthcare provider or your child’s pediatrician is so important. He or she can give you the facts about vaccines, answer questions you might have, and ensure that you are comfortable the immunization process. Being immunized properly is one of the most important steps you can take in protecting the health of you and your family.

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Dr. Stephanie Thomas is a Family Medicine physician at SCL Health Medical Group - Heights. To schedule an appointment online visit svh.org or call 406-237-8300.

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