Vaccinations are an important part of raising a healthy child. Vaccines are safe and should be administered beginning at two months old and extending well into childhood – here’s a back-to-school primer.
“Vaccines are important because they prevent infections that can be quite serious,” says Dr. Monika Dutt, a family physician in Cape Breton and executive director of Upstream, an organization that addresses the social determinants of public health. “I always recommend that people get vaccinated. Some of the infections we vaccinate against include measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis. All of these are infections that can be quite serious, especially for younger children and infants.”
In Nova Scotia, there is an immunization schedule offering a timeline for children aged two months to six years.
“The whole schedule is based on knowing that you’re higher risk at different ages or that we want to vaccinate at a certain age so that we can give you protection through quite a few years of your life,” says Dr. Dutt.
If your child has missed one accidentally or in the event of an unnoticed schedule change, you can consult with your health care provider. Dr. Dutt recommends trying to catch up in order to avoid future illness.
“Even looking at some of the outbreaks we’ve seen across Canada with mumps or even measles, we’ve seen some of those,” she says. “For some people a factor was that they weren’t immunized or schedules have changed and they might’ve been eligible for another dose of vaccines—the ramifications are you would be more susceptible to infections that you otherwise would not have acquired.”
The government of Canada offers a scheduling tool for immunization based by province. Dr. Dutt recommends the CANImmunize app for your smartphone, which keeps track of your family’s immunizations for easy reference. “In Nova Scotia, we don’t require it for schools, you don’t necessarily need super-formal documentation,” she says. “But all the time we’re asked, ‘When were your immunizations, when did your kids get immunized?’ You can just pull it up.”
She’s also a fan of It Doesn’t Have to Hurt, a social media campaign led by Dr. Christine Chambers at the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research out of the IWK Health Centre in Halifax that recognizes the stress for both child and parent when it comes to needles.
Dr. Dutt says the campaign’s goal is to demonstrate to both physicians and parents that vaccinations don’t have “to be super-painful for kids. Don’t just assume it’s going to have to hurt, here are some techniques,” she says. For example, there are anesthetic patches that can take the sting out of getting a needle. “A little thing like that could change their whole perspective around vaccines.”
All of the vaccines on the chart above are free of charge – as are seasonal flu shots. “I enourage everyone to get flu shots,” says Dr. Dutt.