School vaccination: What you need to know before school starts

Be sure your kid is classroom ready for the 2023-2024 school year

The start of the new school year is fast-approaching.

Children need certain vaccines between the ages of 4 and 6, which is around the time they start kindergarten. However, many parents mistakenly believe children can wait until starting school to catch up on missed vaccines.

Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for Houston, joined KPRC 2+ at 7 a.m. to help us understand exactly when children need their shots against preventable diseases.

What do parents need to know about vaccines for children?

Vaccines, also commonly referred to as shots, help keep children safe from diseases that can cause premature deaths and an array of other illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis, paralysis, encephalitis, brain and liver damage, heart problems and infections in the blood, ears, joints and bones. They also protect the entire community by reducing the spread of viruses and bacteria.

When a child is born, the baby counts on the immunity a mother has passed on during pregnancy. However, this protection lessens after a few months. Children receive 80 percent of the vaccinations they will need in their lifetime by the age of 2. These shots provide immunity before children are exposed to diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. Essentially, the shots make children stronger.

Which diseases can vaccines prevent?

Hepatitis a, hepatitis b, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza type B, pneumococcal disease, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. And let’s not forget the yearly covid-19 and flu shots.

Which shots do children need around the time they enroll in pre-K or school?

From the age of 4 to 6, children need to get boosted with Dtap, short for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). the other triple shot is the MMR, short for measles, mumps and rubella. Lastly varicella or chickenpox and polio.

Children under age 5 are especially susceptible to these diseases because their immune systems have not built up the necessary defenses to fight infection.

When do parents need to get younger children vaccinated?

Children receive a hepatitis b shot at birth before leaving the hospital. After that parents need to take their baby to the doctor for a series of shots or boosters at 1 month and then at 2, 4, 6, 12, 15 and 18 months of age. It’s a series of frequent visits but after that children don’t need any boosters until 4 to 6 years of age.

What can parents do if their child is not up to date with their shots?

The best thing to do is to call the family doctor or their medical home and ask if a child is protected with all the needed vaccines. The vaccination schedule is complicated but we want parents to know that they don’t need to stress about remembering exactly which of the vaccines need to be administered at a certain ages. That’s because a doctor’s office can figure that out.

We also recommend that parents ask the doctor or nurse if their child is up to date every time they go to the doctor’s office. It doesn’t matter the reason for the visit, always ask if the child is up to date.

Where can people take their children to get vaccinated if they lack insurance or are underinsured?

The Houston Health Department offers the shots on a sliding scale basis at its four health centers across Houston. They are either free, $5 or $15 for all the shots a child requires. No one is denied for an inability to pay. People can call 311 to find their nearest health center.