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Topics > Healthy Outlook > No Time Like Present To Update Immunizations

No Time Like Present To Update Immunizations

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sat, Sep. 04, 2004
By Dale Jenssen, RN

MARIO, a 38 year-old father of three, stood before us in our clinic: miserable, itching all over, with a nasty, full-blown case of chickenpox.

New and drying pox, like pimples, covered his chest, back, neck, arms and face, even inside his mouth. We gave him medicine and instructions to help the itching, but we couldn't cure him. Chickenpox usually resolves itself in a week or two.

Though his children were up to date on their immunizations, including the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, Mario had never considered getting immunized, even though he couldn't recall having chickenpox as a child. Fortunately, Mario is the exception. Most adults had chickenpox as children, and most children in the United States have been vaccinated.

Right now, it's back to school time and our Health Centers are packed with soon-to-be kindergartners who need their shots to get into school. Although dreaded, receiving vaccinations is a truly wonderful occurrence because it means children won't suffer the terrible symptoms and even death previously caused by many childhood diseases.

The school preparation period is a good time for everyone to check their own and their family's immunization records. And just because you've seen your doctor recently doesn't mean your immunizations are current. When focusing on patients' more urgent complaints and illnesses, doctors sometimes overlook vaccinations unless you ask specifically about this.

Before age 2, children should have completed an initial series of shots to protect them against eight diseases that are particularly dangerous to infants and toddlers. Alarmingly, recent statistics show that in California, 20 percent of 2-year-olds are not up to date with these immunizations.

After reaching 2, toddlers can receive the first dose of Hepatitis A vaccine, followed by the second dose six months later, as well as any shots they may have missed in the first two years.

At age 4 or 5, children may need several additional immunizations to meet school entry requirements.

Much to their relief, the next shot will be a tetanus booster as a teenager.

Older teens and young adults who missed the Hepatitis B school entry requirement should get vaccinated for this serious illness, which can be sexually transmitted and life-threatening.

Students entering college should ask their doctors about meningococcal vaccine that can prevent meningitis, a disease that can strike young people in group-living situations.

All adults need a tetanus booster every 10 years, and those born in 1957 or later need at least one dose of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Adults who grew up outside the United States or who travel may need additional vaccines. And if you are an adult who has never had chickenpox, get vaccinated now.

Children from 6 to 23 months, seniors, some pregnant women and most people with chronic illnesses need vaccinations against the flu, which are usually given annually in the fall. Seniors and some with chronic diseases also should receive pneumonia shots, which should be repeated once after five years.

Although no one likes getting shots, immunizations are a great medical- and public-health advance. If you are not sure about your immunizations, call your doctor or 925-313-6767.

Dale Jenssen is Immunization Coalition Coordinator for Contra Costa Health Services.

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