If your child is about to start school for the first time and you haven't been following the AAP’s recommended schedule, talk to your doctor about how to catch up. To enter public school as a kindergartner, children in all 50 states must be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis; polio; measles and rubella; and chickenpox. Individual states may have additional requirements: In New York, for example, incoming kindergartners must also be protected against mumps, HepB, and Hib.
Just how serious are these vaccine-preventable diseases? Diphtheria is a respiratory infection that was often fatal before the vaccine against it was introduced. Tetanus is caused by bacteria that's found in soil and dust, and if it gets into an open wound it can lead to painful vocal cord spasms, pneumonia, and sometimes death. HepA is a serious liver disease, and Hib can cause meningitis (an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord) in children.
Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a respiratory infection that makes it hard to breathe. It’s particularly dangerous for babies. There are still semi-frequent outbreaks in the U.S., which usually occur when a cluster of people decide to forgo vaccination. There have been recent outbreaks of measles and mumps in this country, too. Dr. Cohen notes, “The immunity from certain vaccines wanes over time, which is why it is so important to be aware of and get your booster shots, as well.”
Rubella (German measles) causes miscarriage or serious birth defects, but thankfully the vaccine has virtually wiped it out in the U.S. Polio has been eradicated here as well. But that doesn't mean you can skip these shots: "If someone with polio comes to the United States, you would be in danger of contracting it if you hadn't gotten the vaccine," says Dr. Cohen.