TIP In The News

Dragsbaek: Recommended vs. required vaccines: What do kids really need?

By Anna C. Dragsbaek | August 25, 2015

Originally published in the Houston Chronicle

State requirements fall short of ensuring your children are in best health in school and beyond

Colored pencils? Check. New backpack? Check. Vaccines? Time to do a double-take.

Texas requires certain vaccines for all students each school year - so it's understandable that some parents might line up their children for those and ignore the longer list of immunizations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After all, "recommended" seems vague, but "required" means they're super-important, right? Wrong.

While vaccine requirements vary widely from state to state, the CDC's vaccination schedule is uniform for the entire nation. If children get only the immunizations that Texas requires, they will miss out on important vaccines that could have an impact on their health for years. Following the CDC's entire vaccination schedule puts children in tip-top shape - so they can concentrate on their homework, instead of staying home sick.

One of the most important recommended doses: the influenza vaccine. Even though the CDC recommends an annual flu shot for all children, Texas does not mandate the vaccine. This might be one reason that only 47.8 percent of Texans were vaccinated against influenza during the 2014-2015 flu season. It's true that if you're young and healthy, the flu is a relatively minor risk. But that shot could make or break a child's report card: The CDC estimates that influenza results in 38 million missed days of school each year.

Another vaccine with no mandate in Texas? The HPV vaccine. In 2013, only 53.8 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 had received even one dose of the vaccine (three are necessary to be fully protected). The CDC estimates that if we reach 80 percent adherence, we could prevent 50,000 cases of cervical cancer in women. It's even worse for boys: Only 34.6 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received one dose in 2013. The immunization is commonly thought to be just for women, but the HPV vaccine can protect against cancer of the throat, mouth, penis and anus in men. The low adherence should be especially alarming to Texans: The state has one of the highest rates of HPV infection in the nation.

Of course, HPV is most commonly found in adults. Elementary school students aren't likely to contract the disease, so it doesn't impact the school's ability to educate. The trick? The vaccine is most effective when given at age 11 or 12, before most students are sexually active. Parents should think of the vaccine as an investment in their children's future. Just like school, it's preparing them for a healthy, fulfilling life as an adult.

Flu shots and HPV aren't the only gaps Texas has in its immunization requirements. If parents follow only the state-mandated immunizations, their children will miss out on vaccines for rotavirus, pneumococcal disease and Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib).

The bottom line: Vaccination mandates vary widely among states. They are a useful public health tool, but they shouldn't be the only thing that influences a child's vaccination schedule. Following the CDC's full regimen will help kids lead a healthy life, both in school and beyond.

Dragsbaek is president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership.


© The Immunization Partnership. Powered by ASTOUNDZ