With back to school time coming ever closer, many Vancouver families are gearing up to send their little ones off to kindergarten. If you have a child who is starting school this year, Vancouver Coastal Health would like to remind you about the kindergarten boosters. We got in touch with Dr. Meena Dawar, Medical Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health and a Vancouver mom herself, to talk immunization.
Back to School Means Kindergarten Boosters
“We want to remind parents that kindergarten-age children are due for their kindergarten boosters. These year there are two boosters that are being provided. One is a four-in-one vaccine that provides protection against diptheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio, and the second shot is the chicken pox vaccine.” Dr. Dawar says that the second chicken pox dose is new this year, following new research. If your child hasn’t received a second dose of the chicken pox vaccine, they will receive it again in grade six. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can visit your family doctor to get it sooner.
We’ve all heard how important vaccinations are, and Dr. Dawar wants to underscore that message. She says, “Vaccines save lives, period. Vaccines have saved more lives worldwide than any other medical intervention. I love vaccines because I think they’re just so beautiful, when you look at the marvels and the wonderful work that has been done through vaccines.” If parents want to learn more about vaccines, Dr. Dawar recommends a few sources. Online, you can check out Immunize BC and Immunize Canada. You can also discuss vaccination with your family doctor, or with your public health nurse.
In spite of the strong message from public health organizations, many parents have concerns about the safety of immunization. As well, any mom knows that taking your baby to get a round of shots isn’t exactly a fun time. Dr. Dawar wants you to know that they take safety concerns seriously. “I know many parents are concerned about vaccine safety, and so are we, because we give vaccines to healthy people and healthy children. Because we’re giving this to healthy people they’re held to a higher safety level than drugs and other therapeutics.” There are systems in place in order to report adverse vaccine reactions to the health region, and then from there all the way up to the World Health Organization.
While vaccine safety is important, according to Dr. Dawar serious reactions are rare. Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), for example, happens in less than one in a million people. Febrile seizures, which can occur when children have a high fever as a result of a vaccine, happen in about one out of every 2500 to 10,000 children. Both of these reactions are treatable. Sore arms or legs and fevers are the most common side effects, and these signal that a vaccine is working. Dr. Dawar suggests some comfort measures to help your child out. While she doesn’t recommend giving medication like Tylenol as a preventive measure, if your child has a fever or discomfort it can help ease that. For babies, breastfeeding when a vaccine is given is the most effective form of pain relief. For older kids heading back to school, sugar has been shown to help, so sucking on a lollipop can ease the experience.
We are currently experiencing a pertussis, or whooping cough, outbreak in the Vancouver area. The kindergarten booster is even more important because it contains pertussis vaccine. Dr. Dawar says, “We were hoping that with schools being out at the end of June that we would see a decline in pertussis activity. We have not seen that, and that’s concerning to us because it means that when children go back to school we can expect a great rebound.” However, the pertussis booster isn’t only for kindergartners. Anyone who’s in contact with small children, and who hasn’t had a pertussis vaccine in the past five years, should receive one, because pertussis is particularly dangerous for babies. This includes all adults (the tetanus shot for adults does not protect against pertussis) and any older children who are around little babies.
If you’ve fallen behind on your child’s immunizations, visiting your family doctor or community health centre for their kindergarten booster before the kids head back to school is a great chance to catch up on those. Getting vaccinated isn’t fun, but it can save lives. Dr. Dawar says, “If there are any parents who have concerns about the safety of vaccines, or questions about the vaccines their children are receiving, we highly encourage them to talk to their physician or public health nurse, or visit those websites. We encourage them to get solid information.”