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By the Minnesota Council of Health Plans and the Minnesota Hospital Association

With so much attention over the past 2-plus years on COVID-19 testing and vaccines, it’s important to remember your children may be due for other important vaccines — or even overdue. Many families delayed routine vaccinations early in the pandemic.

As the new school year begins, this would be an excellent time to get your kids caught up. While the COVID-19 vaccine remains a priority, it’s important to not forget about other key immunizations. The following vaccines are recommended for kids from birth to age six.

Let’s start at B
The HepB vaccine is one of the first vaccines your child will get shortly after birth. This three-dose vaccine protects your child from Hepatitis B, a contagious liver disease that can be serious. Infants and small children often don’t show symptoms, which means without the vaccine they can easily spread the disease to others.

Avoid the RV
Babies typically receive one of two Rotavirus vaccines when they are two months old. One version is given in a two-dose series, the other is a three-dose. Both come in drops which are given by mouth. Rotavirus mostly affects babies and small children. It causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever and can be serious. The virus is spread from babies’ poop and can live on objects for days.

Although polio has been eradicated from the U.S. for 30 years, cases still occur in other parts of the world. And most recently, there has been a resurgence of Polio in parts of the U.S. As a result, the polio vaccine is still recommended. The polio shot is given in four doses beginning at two months and ending at age 4-6. Polio can infect the spinal cord, causing paralysis or death.

Hib vaccine
Babies also receive the Hib vaccine beginning when they are two months old. Caused by a bacterium, the most common Hib disease is meningitis — an infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include fever, headache or stiff neck, confusion, sensitivity to light and poor eating and drinking. Most babies with Hib disease require hospital care and the disease can be fatal.

Pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13)
A four-dose series of the pneumococcal vaccine shot is given to babies beginning at two months. The vaccine prevents pneumonia, a bacterial infection that starts in the lungs, and pneumococcal meningitis, an infection of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Pneumococcal disease is responsible for up to half of all ear infections. It is spread by infected people coughing and sneezing.

Back to A
The Hepatitis A vaccine is a two-series dose beginning between age 1 and 2. It is important to be protected against Hepatitis A, which is a liver disease, because the disease often shows no symptoms in children up to age six. This means other people can be infected. The HepA vaccine has reduced the incidence of Hepatitis A by 95% since the 1980’s.

Three for one (MMR)
The measles vaccine is typically combined with vaccines for mumps and rubella (MMR). Children usual receive their first shot when they are 12-15 months old. The second shot is typically administered when they’re between four and six. Call your child’s health care provider and ask about the MMR vaccine.

The measles vaccine has been available for more than 50 years. It is highly effective, too. In 2000, the U.S. even declared measles “eliminated.” However, measles outbreaks are not uncommon anymore. In 2019, the U.S. had more measles cases than had ever been seen in the previous 25 years. In 2017, Minnesota saw its highest number of measles cases since 1990.

DTaP or Tdap
For all-in-one protection against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis), your child will receive the DTaP or Tdap vaccine in five doses—the last two at age 4-6 and a booster called Tdap at 11 or 12. All three of these diseases can be serious. Diphtheria starts with a sore throat, fever and chills and then causes a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat. Tetanus is caused by bacteria that produces a toxin found in soil, dust and manure. The toxin can enter the body through breaks in the skin. Symptoms include muscle stiffness, jaw cramping and difficulty swallowing. Whooping cough is a respiratory illness that can cause violent coughing fits that can include gasping for air, making a “whooping” sound.

Other vaccinations
In addition to the MMR vaccine, children four to six are often scheduled to receive final doses of vaccines that were started when they were younger, including DTaP, chickenpox and polio. Before your child heads off to school for the first time, learn what vaccines may be required before starting the school year. Your health care provider can also tell you what vaccines your child needs.

The chickenpox vaccine is recommended, at 12-15 months and age 4-6. Chicken pox causes a rash of itchy blisters, fever and headache. Serious cases can cause skin infections, dehydration, pneumonia, and encephalitis (brain swelling).

Human papilloma virus is group of 150 viruses that can cause cancer in men and women. The 2-dose HPV vaccine is typically given at age 11 or 12. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective in preventing the growth of precancerous cells. Nearly 200,000 women are diagnosed with pre-cervical cancer each year in the U.S. More than 4,000 women die of cervical cancer each year. HPV is spread by sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex.

Meningococcal vaccine
Doctors recommend pre-teens and teens get vaccinated for meningococcal disease, which is any illness caused by meningococcus bacteria. This two-dose shot also protects against meningitis, a potentially deadly infection of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can also infect the bloodstream. Although meningococcal disease is uncommon in the U.S., teens and young adults are at increased risk of meningitis. Symptoms, including headache and stiff neck, can start suddenly. In just 48 hours a person can progress from healthy to extremely sick.