If your child is entering kindergarten this fall, vaccines should be on your back-to-school list. If you want to avoid the rush, get those immunizations in July rather than waiting until August.

Children, ages 4-6, who are about to enter kindergarten need a number of immunizations. Often they are due for the final dose in series that began soon after their birth.

There’s a reason schools require proof of vaccination before students enter the classroom. Vaccinations protect individuals, and if vaccination rates are high enough, they also protect entire communities. A community’s resistance to the spread of a contagious disease depends on a high proportion of individuals being vaccinated. That resistance is called community immunity.

Vaccines protect your children and also protect those who are too young to receive vaccines or unable to receive immunizations because of medical conditions. During an outbreak, a child that is not adequately vaccinated may be excluded from daycare, school and school sporting events.

To attend school, the state of Montana requires children to be vaccinated for these diseases:

• Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP, Tdap): 4 doses, with one given on or after fourth birthday, plus one dose of Tdap before entering 7th grade

• Polio: 3 doses, with one dose given on or after fourth birthday

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• Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR): 2 doses, with first dose given on or after the first birthday

• Varicella, “chicken pox”: 2 doses, with first does given on or after the first birthday

Even if your children are older, you need to be aware of vaccination schedules. Most pre-teens get their shots in August, so it’s wise to beat the rush. In addition to the required Tdap vaccine, parents should talk to their child’s healthcare provider about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against HPV infections that cause some forms of cancer and two different meningococcal vaccines, which protect against a total of five types of meningitis bacteria that can be fatal. Recommended age ranges are different for the two meningitis vaccines.

While the measles outbreaks of 2019 are no longer making headlines, this year’s measles outbreak has been unlike anything the United States has seen in decades. More than a thousand cases of measles were reported in 28 states from January through June 27 of this year, the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. Foreign visitors from countries where measles cases are still common, or American tourists visiting those countries, tend to start those outbreaks. Measles cases tend to spread in pockets where vaccination rates are low. Some parents will not allow children to receive vaccinations. Others don’t make vaccinations a priority because they fail to understand the importance of vaccination, are unsure of immunizations schedules, or simply decide they are too busy.

Measles is highly contagious. It can spread for up to 2 hours after someone infected has left the room. Some people think of measles as only a rash and fever that lasts a few days, but measles can cause serious health complications, especially for babies and young children. About 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized. One to 3 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best of care. In developing countries the death rate is as high as 25 percent.

As parents, you have the power to protect your children against measles and other childhood diseases with safe and effective vaccines.

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Karmen Hammermeister, a registered nurse and immunization specialist at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-247-3380 or karmen.ham@riverstonehealth.org