New school year means books, pens and vaccines

September 28, 2013

With the start of the school year, vaccinations by providers heat up. Vaccinations must be current within 30 days of the start of school, so parents who drag around are under the wire to get their child current.

Two of the non-required pre-teen vaccinations are worthy of discussion. At age 11 or so, it is recommended that children begin their human papillomavirus and meningococcal series. HPV vaccinations have had a lot of discussion, pro and con, but put simply, it helps prevent cervical and other cancers.

It is estimated that 21,000 cancers could be prevented annually by HPV vaccines. About 10,300 women get cervical cancer per year. It is not a license for unbridled sex as some argue; it is a preventive measure best served while the child is young. Vaccinations are available for both boys and girls.

There are 79 million Americans infected with HPV with an additional 14 million becoming infected each year.

Less controversial in some ways is the meningococcal vaccine. Also given at age 11, it requires a booster at age 16. While the vaccine was originally thought to be effective at one dose, it has been found to have waning protection, so the second dose is necessary. The highest rate of meningococcal disease is found in 16- to 21-year-olds, so this is the period necessary for maximum protection.

There are 2,600 cases of bacterial meningitis per year in the United States with a fatality rate of 10 to 20 percent. The disease can be transmitted through saliva and close, prolonged contact with an infected person. For this reason, most colleges require this vaccination before admission, as do the armed forces.

While it seems like there is an endless array of required vaccinations, optional ones that are on their way to becoming required may be equally important. Add these to your child’s to-do list, along with yearly influenza vaccinations, to help protect them.

Bill Smith is the Robeson County Health Director. He can be reached at 910-671-3404 or at