Immunizations are important for all ages

By: By Jo Ellen Naylor, RN - Health department

When you think of immunizations I bet you think of babies receiving their shots. However, we must not forget the importance of keeping these babies up to date with their vaccinations as they become preteens and teens. There are recommended immunizations and there are required immunizations. Recommended immunizations include the influenza vaccine and the HPV (Human papillomavirus). Required immunizations include Meningococcal vaccine and Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine.

Influenza (flu) is a very contagious viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. The virus is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms of influenza include fever, chills, cough, headache, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue, and body aches and pains. The flu vaccine should be given every year at the beginning of flu season. Flu season is typically considered to be between October and May in North Carolina. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective. It is important for everyone 6 months and older to receive a flu vaccine.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is passed through sexual contact. There are over thirty types of the HPV virus and it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. It is the cause of more than 99% of cervical cancer and is a common cause of cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum, and oropharynx (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). It is also the cause of genital warts. It commonly affects people in their teens and early 20’s. It is highly recommended that the HPV vaccine be given to boys and girls beginning at age 11 to allow the vaccine time to provide full protection against HPV. The HPV vaccine is a 2 or 3 dose series depending on the age of the child when the series is started.

Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) is a required vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Tetanus is caused by an anaerobic, spore forming bacterium called Clostridium Tetani. The spores are found in dirt, dust, and animal feces. Symptoms begin as muscle spasms starting in the jaw and neck and spreads from the head down through the body causing problems swallowing and breathing. Other symptoms include high fevers, high blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms. Diphtheria is a bacteria that can live in the respiratory tract and is spread through droplet contact such as coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite. If left untreated, it can cause swelling in the neck, breathing difficulties, myocarditis, and death. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is spread through respiratory secretions such as coughing and sneezing. The cough which produces a high-pitch whoop sound may last for weeks. The pertussis infection can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death. Pertussis is particularly dangerous for infants and young children because their small air ways don’t allow for oxygen to pass as it should when they are infected. Pertussis can be deadly for infants or small children. It is highly recommended that all pregnant women, parents, siblings, grandparents and caregivers of infants and small children receive the Tdap vaccine. Under North Carolina law, the Tdap vaccine is required for children entering 7th grade or by 12 years of age, whichever comes first, if the child has not previously received a booster dose after age 7. Any person entering a college or university must have had three doses of tetanus/diphtheria toxoid which one of the three must be tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection spread by respiratory secretions from coughing and sneezing. It can be spread by living in close quarters and by kissing. Symptoms include fever, headache, and stiffness in the neck. The infection affects the lining of the brain and spinal cord causing meningitis. The meningococcal vaccine is required for preteens and teens. One dose is required for a child starting 7th grade or by 12 years of age, whichever comes first. A second dose will be required for children starting the 12th grade or by 17 years of age beginning August 1, 2020. A second dose is highly recommended now for children going to a college or university especially when living in a dorm.

Whether a vaccine is recommended or required, all children should receive all age appropriate immunizations. Most insurance companies pay for immunizations. If a child is not covered by insurance or is underinsured, there is a program called Vaccines for Children (VFC) that is federally funded that pays for children’s vaccines. The VFC program provides vaccines for children 18 years old and younger, who are uninsured, eligible for Medicaid, American Indian, and Alaska Native. The Sampson County Health Department participates in the VFC program. To schedule an appointment for vaccines, please call the Health Department at 910-592-1131, ext. 4001, 4960 or 4220. For more information on vaccines or the VFC program please contact us at 910-592-1131, ext. 4247.

By Jo Ellen Naylor, RN

Health department