No. 2 Pencils, check.
Above, Melody Montemayor, LPN, prepares to administer a vaccination at Southern Tier Pediatrics on Foote Avenue in Jamestown. Children should be vaccinated first as babies, then receive boosters before entering sixth grade.
P-J?photos by Nicholena Moon
There is one prerequisite for school that cannot be bought at Wal-Mart. Vaccinations are equally as important as that brand new scientific calculator, but for very different reasons.
When asked what those reasons were, Katie Bell, RPN-C at Southern Tier Pediatrics didn't know where to start.
"There are so many," she said. "[Vaccines] just basically cut down on the most widespread communicable diseases that go around areas so much. If kids aren't vaccinated, they're spreading it. It lowers the instances of these illnesses getting spread."
Vaccines are the best defense children (and adults) have against serious, preventable and sometimes deadly contagious diseases, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. No kid enjoys being stuck with a needle, but it's vital for preventative health care reasons. In fact, New York public health law 2164 mandates the vaccination of children before they will be admitted to school.
The majority of immunizations are given prior to school-age.
"Our babies, from birth, are vaccinated," said Bell. They get a routine kind of vaccinations until they are about 20 months. Then when they go to kindergarten, we make sure that they get boosters, which basically just boosts their immunity up from what they had when they were babies."
"And then they get another booster before sixth grade," Bell continued.
The process is fairly painless, aside from the actual shot. Families should bring their young children to the doctor for routine examinations, during which the doctor or nurse will ensure that all immunizations are up to date, and if not, administer the required shot. However, babies and young children are not the only ones who need to receive their vaccinations. Many colleges now require incoming freshmen to be inoculated as well.
"There are a lot more [vaccinations] that are becoming mandatory for college," commented Bell. "So there are usually a few that most kids will at least need to make sure they've had before they go to college."
But what does a vaccine actually consist of, and how does it affect the body? Bell explained that what's in the needle is a watered-down version of the virus or bacteria it is meant to ward against.
"Most of them are inactive, dead components of a virus or a bacteria that is introduced into your body so that your body can make antibodies for it, which is what kills off that virus or bacteria," she said. "So should that virus or bacteria come into the system another time, you've built up all these antibodies that know what to do with that."
Never fear, however, that tiny bit of virus will not make you or your child ill, even if the virus is a live one.
"There are a couple vaccines that are live, one being a nasal flu vaccine which a lot of our kids like to take because they're not getting a shot, but that's live virus," said Bell. "We don't see kids get sick from them even anymore. You're not going to get sick from it, which a lot of parents are worried about."
Although diseases like polio are all but eradicated in our society today, precautions against the now-defunct illnesses must still be undertaken to avoid the risk of a resurgence.
"If we stopped doing it, it will come right back," said Bell. "The body is smart, and these bacterias and viruses are very smart. If we stop doing [vaccines] [the viruses] will come right back around. All it takes is one person to get it back."
Another controversy that has surrounded vaccines links the shots to various forms of autism. However, the medical community has largely debunked that particular theory.
"So as far as from us in the medical profession, PAs, doctors, anybody, we stand right by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which forever has said there is absolutely no link between autism or any other behavioral issue or anything and vaccines," said Bell. "Pretty much all it takes is for one person to make a link and believe there is a link and then blow it up. That's basically how it happened."
The most important part in preventing communicable disease is to ensure timely vaccinations. Schools as well as doctors' offices keep a watchful eye on immunizations. Although this makes it easier for parents, it is still important to keep track of childrens' wellness visits.
"Most of the schools are obviously on top of this, and the school nurse enters in and they'll basically make sure of that," said Bell. "The best thing a parent can do is make sure that their child has a well visit every year, is seen by their doctor every year, because at that time we look over their shot records and make sure that they've had everything that they need."
Every school year brings its own perils, and this year illness may take the form of the whooping cough. According to Bell, parents and teachers should be on the lookout for this highly contagious sickness.
"That's going around, so we are being really careful to make sure that every kid has had a booster of it," she said. "That's definitely one of the big things we're worried about going into the school year, because it's already going around. And there are so many kids that have either missed their booster for whatever reason or are a little bit behind in those, and those are the kids that are going to spread it. And it's so contagious, it's already a big deal. Once these kids hit the school, it will be a major issue."
Although vaccinations may not be fun, at least little Johnny will walk away with a lollipop.