As summer winds down and the school year draws near, you’re probably already making lists of all the things you need to do to prepare for the upcoming change in season. Did “check the kids’ immunization records” make the cut? If not, it should.
Whether you’re sending your kids to school in person, keeping them home or trying a hybrid approach, that shot record still matters. Keeping it up to date can help protect your kids and you from getting sick with run-of-the-mill bugs and more serious threats.
That said, it’s not just your kids you need to worry about.
As we head into fall, it’s time to start prepping your own immune system for the inevitable onslaught of sniffles and sore throats. And that includes an annual flu shot.
Worried about heading to the doctor right now? You might think that an ongoing pandemic — with over 5.1 million cases of COVID-19 across the country — would be a good excuse to skip your annual vaccine.
Not so fast.
Doctors have been telling patients for months now to come on in — assuming you aren’t actively sick, of course. There’s no reason to skip a regular wellness visit for you or your kids, and there’s no reason to skip any necessary vaccines this year, either.
As long as you’re well, you can schedule that annual checkup with confidence.
Plus, routine vaccinations are a critical part of staying healthy. And while we don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19 yet, we have plenty of vaccines available for a host of typical illnesses for kids and adults.
In support of National Immunization Month, here’s why vaccines are still so important in 2020.
Note: this isn’t medical advice. The following is for information only. Check in with your doctor for medical guidance.
Vaccines are safe, effective & lifesaving.
Simple truth: vaccines save lives.
Case in point? Smallpox. This deadly disease ravaged the globe for centuries, dating all the way back to at least the 4th century in China. Three out of every 10 people who got smallpox died.
But in 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated. A disease that once killed 30% of its victims now poses no threat thanks to immunization.
Vaccines are considered one of the world’s greatest interventions — and for good reason. Without them, we might still be struggling with diseases like measles or smallpox, deadly diseases that killed millions throughout history.
Even if you support the general idea of vaccines, you might have doubts about them.
There are plenty of myths surrounding them, like the idea that vaccines cause autism. But research consistently shows no link between vaccines and autism, and severe side effects — including death — happen rarely with today’s vaccines.
That said, it’s understandable to worry about the amount of medicine we pump into our kids, especially when they’re small. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a schedule of vaccines that can seem overwhelming.
But contrary to what you might have heard, that rigorous immunization schedule is actually better for your kids than the recommendations we had a few decades ago.
Following the current recommended schedule, kids in the U.S. today are protected against 16 diseases by the time they’re 18.
It’s true that kids get more vaccines today than ever before. But in 2020, the immunization schedule means a more targeted approach that offers better protection against even more diseases.
Hospitals need beds for the pandemic.
Let’s talk about the viral elephant in the room. Back in March, we didn’t know much about the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. And unfortunately, that’s still largely true.
But you don’t need a degree in epidemiology or medicine to know that in some parts of the country, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on local hospital systems.
With fall right around the corner and no sign that the pandemic will just end of its own accord, we may be in for a tidal wave of illness.
In fact, health experts expect it.
It’s likely that hospital systems will be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases in the fall. And once cooler weather drives people back indoors, the usual suspects could start creeping up again as well: flu, seasonal colds, bronchitis, stomach bugs and strep.
The last thing you want to do when you have a sore throat is to head to a waiting room full of people who could be sick with something more serious. Respiratory problems can look and act the same regardless of the reason. That’s what makes diagnosing COVID-19 so tough, especially in places with limited tests.
But there’s another problem facing doctors and patients this fall.
Because COVID-19 causes more life-threatening symptoms in some people, hospitals need ICU beds to take care of them. It’s the same argument we heard back in March when the pandemic really hit the U.S.
In order to save resources, equipment and personnel for the big stuff, we need to do our part in reducing the small stuff.
In this case, that means getting a flu shot and making sure your kids have their regular shots up to date. Flu shots don’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, but they can lessen symptoms if you do end up sick. It’s worth a shot — pun intended — to protect yourself as much as possible.
Remember: we have no vaccine for COVID-19.
There are no treatments and no science-backed approaches that consistently help, treat or cure this disease. Until there’s a vaccine and/or treatment, we need to do what we can to mitigate spread.
Immunization might be mandatory, even for virtual school.
We hate to fall back on the “because the government said so” argument here. But the fact is that vaccinations might be mandatory if you want to enroll your kids in school or let them participate in extracurriculars.
Sports, marching band, after-school clubs and other kid-friendly activities usually require participants to be up-to-date on shots. That’s especially true for public schools.
Every state requires kids in public schools to be immunized against certain diseases. Some may include private schools in that requirement, too.
As of 2020, the following states only allow medical exemptions from school immunization requirements: California, Mississippi, New York and West Virginia.
Other states may include exemptions for religious and/or philosophical reasons. State-based laws on vaccines vary.
But even if your state allows you to forgo vaccines, consider your motives in skipping shots, especially for your kids.
Unless there’s a medical reason not to get vaccinated, immunizations offer good protection against some fairly serious diseases. Some of these diseases can be fatal or cause permanent injuries.
One vaccine advocate put it this way: instead of asking which vaccines you can skip, ask which diseases you’d be okay exposing your child to.
And as we’ve learned this year, public health really matters.
Americans value freedom.
(That might be an understatement.)
But when it comes to public health, the truth is that it requires some sacrifice in personal freedom.
Like using seat belts, obeying speed limits, wearing clothes in public, and following all the other laws and regulations that govern us, we give up some amount of personal freedom to live in a shared society.
The same goes for public health, too.
Health experts have been urging people for months to wear a mask, keep your distance from other people and to avoid crowds to keep the spread of COVID-19 low. Until we have a way to treat or vaccinate against the disease, these are the best methods we have for protecting ourselves and the people around us.
Vaccines work the same way.
You might have seen a lot about “herd immunity” floating around social media and the news these days. Per the Mayo Clinic, herd immunity is when enough people in a population have immunity to a disease so that transmission from person to person is unlikely.
Herd immunity happens one of two ways: naturally (via infection) and from vaccines.
The problem with natural herd immunity lies in the numbers.
Take the current pandemic as an example. In the U.S., about 70% of the population would have to get infected and recover from COVID-19 for herd immunity to develop. That’s over 200 million people.
In the meantime, hospital systems would flood with sick patients. Higher-risk patients might not get the care they need, and untold numbers of people could die in the process.
The better approach would be a vaccine. Fewer side effects and lower risk for the same outcome: the ability to thwart outbreaks.
Unfortunately, we’re still quite a ways out from getting a vaccine for COVID-19.
But we do have vaccines for plenty of existing diseases, like measles, whooping cough, shingles and the seasonal flu. That’s why we give kids vaccines and why adults should get their recommended shots, too.
Some people can’t get vaccinated due to medical reasons. They depend on the general population being vaccinated for protection — i.e., herd immunity. Measles, for example, requires 94% of the population to be immune to interrupt transmission according to the Mayo Clinic.
Put simply, the more people who vaccinate, the better we can protect society as a whole.