Molly Howell, immunization program director with the N.D. Dept. of Health
by Luann Dart
When her daughters were born, Bridget Winkler had no doubt they would be vaccinated throughout their childhoods to protect them from certain debilitating diseases.
“For me, it was a no-brainer. It was something I was always going to do. There never was any doubt,” she says.
The mother of 2-year-old Mykayla and 7-year-old Mykenzie, Bridget is also a registered nurse with the Custer District Health Unit. As a community health nurse, she administers hundreds of vaccinations to other children every year.
“Vaccines prevent diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and polio. ... They are debilitating diseases and if we can prevent against them, I’m going to do it,” she says.
Children who meet recommended vaccination schedules will receive their first immunization at birth, the Hepatitis B birth dose.
The schedule then recommends that vaccinations occur at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12 months, and then 18 months of age. The next dose is prior to entering kindergarten and then prior to entering seventh grade. It is also recommended that children receive an annual influenza immunization every year, beginning at 6 months of age.
Many vaccinations are administered in combinations. For example, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination is combined into one dose, and a total of two doses must be given throughout childhood. Several vaccinations require more than one dose throughout a recommended schedule, so parents should be vigilant to keep their children’s schedule up-to-date, says Molly Howell, immunization program manager with the N.D. Department of Health.
“All children, regardless of vaccines, should have a visit with their pediatrician or family practice physician annually. So infants need well child visits, and adolescents need to be going in just to make sure everything developmentally is going OK and for high school activity physicals to play sports,” she explains.
She suggests parents ask about immunizations every time their child visits a doctor.
Winkler prepared her kindergarten-age child by being honest and direct about what she could expect.
“If a parent is anxious about immunizations, that can pass onto a child. Try to remain calm when children are getting immunizations. Just remain calm and know you’re doing what’s best for your child,” Howell suggests.
Despite the benefits of vaccinations, some parents still express concerns, Howell says. One sentiment expressed is that these diseases no longer exist, which is untrue, she says.
“That’s the thing with vaccines, when they’re doing a good job, people start forgetting about the disease they are preventing. Any disease can come back if we stop vaccinating,” Howell says. Diseases such as measles and pertussis, or whooping cough, have erupted among populations which have not been vaccinated.
“People say, ‘Well we don’t see those diseases anymore.’ Well, there’s a reason you don’t see those diseases anymore. It’s because people immunize their kids,” Winkler adds.
Both advise parents to find credible sources for information, rather than believing myths perpetuated by the Internet.
“Parents should make sure that when they are looking for information on immunizations that they are using reliable sources of information. There’s a lot of misinformation on the Internet, so they just have to make sure they are going to the American Academy of Pediatrics or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the N.D. Department of Health’s immunization program’s website and not going to places with ulterior motives or spreading misinformation about vaccines,” Howell says.
“Go to an independent, credible site. Absolutely, you want to be informed and know that you’re going to do the best for your kids. It’s a lot of responsibility on the parent, but that’s what being a parent is all about,” Winkler adds.
Another myth is a link between autism and vaccinations.
“There have been more than 20 studies that have tried to find a link between vaccines and autism and no link has been found,” Howell says. “Now, parents can feel secure knowing that vaccines are not the cause of autism and they should vaccinate their children and they should trust their provider’s recommendation.”
Parents also express concerns about the number of vaccinations their children receive at one time, so they try to get the shots at different intervals.
“It’s much easier to get them over with all at once. The immunization schedule, that’s the recommended schedule based on how the vaccine’s been tested and it’s recommended by experts, so when you change that schedule, it delays when your child is up to date with vaccines,” Howell says.
Howell also recommends parents get their children vaccinated with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which is recommended for children ages 11-12. The vaccine protects against HPV types that most commonly cause certain cancers, according to the N.D. Department of Health.
“It is sexually transmitted, so parents are concerned about having that conversation with their child or they think their child won’t get HPV,” Howell says.
“Eighty percent of adults by the time they are 50 have at some point in their life been exposed to some form of HPV,” she says. “We could basically wipe out cervical cancer in our children’s generation if people would get vaccinated.”
The vaccination is not among those required for school attendance, but “all the vaccines that are recommended have the same importance as the required vaccines,” Howell points out.
Affordability should not be an obstacle to vaccinations, according to Howell.
The Vaccines for Children Program provides vaccines at no cost to American Indians, those enrolled in Medicaid, and children without insurance or whose insurance don’t cover vaccines.
“There should be no reason a child, if they are unable to afford vaccines, can’t have access to those vaccines,” Howell said.
Also, the Affordable Care Act requires that vaccines be covered at the first dollar by insurance, so most, if not all, insurances by now should be covering immunizations.
Taking steps to keep children healthy should include immunizations, Howell advises.
“The number one thing you can do to keep your child healthy is to vaccinate them,” Howell says. “Vaccinations are definitely the best way to protect your child’s health and as a member of the community, they protect the other people around your child.”
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives near Elgin.