An ounce of prevention

Back-to-school vaccines help kids get ready for a great year

By Lia Tremblay | Cape Fear Valley Health System

Health | August 2022 Issue

Late summer is a busy time across North Carolina as parents scramble to make sure their kids are stocked up and ready for another school year. It’s a busy time for pediatricians, too, as their offices deal with sports physicals and last-minute checkups.


It’s also a big time for talking about vaccines. North Carolina requires that children be up-to-date on more than a half-dozen immunizations before beginning kindergarten, and there are additional requirements before the start of the seventh grade and senior year.


“The kindergarten visit is a big one,” says Dr. Warren Johnson, a pediatrician at Hoke Primary Care. “They’ll need at least four different vaccines to be ready for school.”


That doesn’t necessarily mean four different shots, however. Because different vaccines can be combined into a single dose, it takes just two “pokes” to get the job done with all four vaccines.


“The important thing is to stay up-to-date with well-child visits,” Johnson says. “Those encompass a lot of the things we need to talk about for school readiness, including the vaccines they should be getting along the way.”


Johnson says the past two years have complicated the vaccine conversation with his patients. The politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled suspicion of vaccines in general, he says.


“Some parents bring up concerns about risks,” he says. “But those perceived risks often come from inaccurate information, and misinformation can spread very quickly on social media.”


Johnson says he can relate to some of the concerns parents raise, and he welcomes the opportunity to put their minds at ease.


“It’s an important conversation to have,” he says. “And families will often change their minds based on trust and open communication. Some practices will say something like, ‘We won’t treat your children unless they’re vaccinated,’ and I think that can do more harm than good.”


Beyond the vaccines required for school attendance, Johnson says, there are others that he recommends. The HPV vaccine is recommended for preadolescents and adolescents, for example, and, except in rare circumstances, he recommends that children receive the vaccines against COVID-19 and the flu.


“We never want to force anything, but I do encourage the flu and COVID-19 vaccines,’’ he says. “Even if a child is not at high risk for developing a severe illness after contracting the flu or COVID-19, we don’t want them spreading it to people who are high risk. And, of course, we don’t want them missing days of school or activities if they don’t have to.’’


For more information about North Carolina’s required vaccinations for students, visit immunize.nc.gov.