By Bob LaMendola, Community Affairs, Florida Department of Health in Broward County
Childhood vaccines are life savers
Immunizations have proven so safe and effective that few parents – or even doctors – have ever seen measles, mumps, chickenpox or many other contagious diseases from the 1900s.
“Every year, we see incredible success through immunization efforts,” says Dr. Paula Thaqi, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Broward County (DOH-Broward). “Healthy kids miss less school and in turn, the parents of healthy children miss less work. Because of immunizations, children are not dying from vaccine-preventable diseases, and our communities are safer. Protect your family and the lives of those around you today through proper vaccination.”
Children are best vaccinated by their physician. Health insurers must cover all recommended vaccines for free; some doctors charge for an office visit to give the shots. Families without health coverage can get free or low-cost vaccinations from DOH-Broward.
The state requires all students to have their shots before they start school. Required shots are:
- Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) – 4-5 doses of DTaP for babies and pre-schoolers. 1 booster dose TDaP before seventh
- Polio – 3-5 doses for babies and pre-schoolers.
- Measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) – 2 doses of MMR for babies and pre-schoolers.
- Varicella (chickenpox) – 2 doses for babies and pre-schoolers. 1 booster dose before seventh In adults, varicella can re-emerge to cause shingles.
- Hepatitis B – 3 doses for
Additional vaccines that are not required for school but offer important protection include:
- Annual flu shot – Starting at age six
- Rotavirus – 3 doses for
- Haemophilus influenzae B – 3-4 doses for
- Pneumococcal disease – 4 doses for
- Hepatitis A – 2 doses for
HPV vaccine protects kids against cancer
If there was a vaccine to protect your children against cancer, wouldn’t you get it for them? Well, there is.
HPV vaccine prevents human papillomavirus, which causes over 13,000 cases of cervical cancer every year (1,000 in Florida) and kills 4,200 women. Among males and females alike, HPV also causes genital cancers, genital warts, oral cancers and related diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccine for all boys and girls from ages 11 to 26, but it can be given as early as age 9. DOH-Broward encourages HPV vaccine for all children. Vaccination rates have been low in South Florida and the state, but are rising.
“We think the major issue is education,” Thaqi says. “Parents may be unfamiliar with the vaccine, and hesitant. We are communicating that the vaccine can prevent cancers.”
HPV vaccine can now be completed in two doses rather than three – if the first dose is given before age 15 and the second dose is given within 6-12 months. Otherwise, three doses are needed.
The meningococcal vaccine also is recommended starting at age 11. This vaccine prevents meningitis, which can be fatal.
Health insurance covers both vaccines at no charge. Those without coverage can get the vaccines free from DOH-Broward.
Sealing little teeth against cavities, infection
It protects like paint and it’s applied like paint, but in the mouths of children, it is colorless, tasteless, odorless and painless.
Dental sealant is thin coating of plastic that traveling hygienists from DOH-Broward have brushed onto the molars of thousands of children – for free– as part of a new oral health program that started in Broward schools in April 2016.
The sealant can prevent bacteria from collecting in the crevices of children’s teeth. Numerous studies have shown the coating can ward off cavities and related oral infections for years. “Our school-based dental sealant program will improve the oral health of children and prevent absenteeism due to tooth pain,” Dr. Thaqi says. “This is a way to keep children healthy in Broward.”
Not enough children receive dental sealants. The CDC and the American Dental Association urge all dentists to offer the protection, but say less than half do so. Until the DOH-Broward program began, kids from families with little or no dental insurance had little access to sealants.
The hygienists have seen 30,000 children at 134 Title 1 elementary and middle schools so far. Each child gets a dental exam, cleaning, fluoride rinse, free toothbrush and a personal lesson in brushing and flossing. More than 800 kids who needed further dental care have been referred to their own dentists or to DOH-Broward’s free and low-cost dental practices. During the school visits, hygienists examine any child who has received permission from a parent or guardian.