With fall around the corner, people will be spending more time together indoors. Vaccinations are an important tool to help you and your children avoid getting sick. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

It’s back-to-school season and for many children involved in athletics and other school activities, that means a visit to the doctor’s office for fall vaccinations.

If you keep up on your child’s vaccine schedule, most shots will happen in kindergarten and again in seventh grade.

In Michigan, students in grades K-12 are required to be up to date on the following shots, all based on grade level:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP, DTaP, Tdap)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY)
  • Polio
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Varicella (chickenpox)

Kindergarteners should be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio.

Seventh-graders should be vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, human papillomavirus, and hepatitis A.

Mary Zimmerman, vaccine and immunization specialist at Spectrum Health, said she has been seeing pediatric immunizations drop across the state, and it’s worrisome.

“If we fall below 80 percent, we will see herd immunity go away on many of these conditions and we could see widespread outbreak in our kids,” she said. “Immunizations are simply a must for our kids.”

Fighting the flu

Vaccines are an important tool to help protect students from diseases such as measles, chickenpox and whooping cough, which can spread easily in schools.

And the same holds true with the flu.

This year’s flu shot aims to help protect against a variety of different strains. Each year in the U.S., anywhere from 12,000 to 61,000 people die from the flu, while hundreds of thousands more are often hospitalized.

This is why parents need to take these vaccines seriously, Zimmerman said.

Before the chickenpox vaccine, about 100 children would die each year from the disease.

“These were healthy children who didn’t survive chickenpox,” she said. “And many of these deaths could have been avoided with a vaccine.”

The CDC recommends everyone receive the flu vaccine by late October, although late August and early September are even better.

On average, about 140 pediatric patients die from influenza every year in the U.S. 

“It’s an easy thing to prevent,” Zimmerman said. 

About 80% of the children who die from the flu each year are not fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers predict the coming flu season by monitoring what’s circulating in the southern hemisphere; they then create a vaccine to mirror that.

During the last two flu seasons—when many people were wearing masks—fewer people got the flu.

With limited mask requirements now in place, it may set the stage for a large number of flu cases this year, according to Zimmerman.

COVID-19 vaccine

This year will be the first in which many parents can vaccinate their children against COVID-19. It’s an easy vaccine to add while you’re in to see the pediatrician for other fall vaccines.

Zimmerman said the two COVID-19 vaccines have very similar safety and efficacy. For children younger than 5, the Pfizer vaccine is a three-dose series and Moderna is a two-dose series.

Zimmerman urges parents to consider the COVID-19 vaccine for their kids this fall.

“Some kids do get very sick with COVID-19,” she said.

“We have seen many inpatient cases of COVID-19 at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital,” she said. “And the risk of getting the disease highly outweighs any side effects from the vaccine.”

Vaccinations are a safe and effective means of preventing illness, she said.

“As we head into the colder fall and winter months and spend more time together indoors, being vaccinated can really help prevent you from getting sick,” she said. “You are not just helping your own child or your own family, but you are helping others in the community stay safe.”