Back to School: Straight Talk About Vaccinations

 While you’re busy gathering up back-to-school items for your children, don’t forget their shots. We caught up with Dr. Mary Wells at Infirmary Pediatrics to get the latest in immunization news. / By Amber Wielkens 


A graduate of the University of South Alabama and their College of Medicine, Dr. Wells has been practicing pediatrics since 1995. She shares, “This is the twentieth anniversary of our practice: Infirmary Pediatrics. I love this age group. There is never a dull moment!”

But what about those shots? Dr. Wells has much to say on the subject, starting with, ”Vaccines work. For more than 50 years, vaccines have saved millions of lives. Most vaccines are 90% to 99% effective. Vaccines are safe. Before a vaccine can be licensed in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigates all aspects of vaccine development and safety. Additional reviews are conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Academy of Family Physicians before official recommendation. Each and every lot is quality tested and the manufacturing facilities are regularly inspected by the FDA. Vaccines are continually studied for safety and effectiveness. Physicians are required to report certain side effects to the FDA and CDC.”

Having established the process a vaccine goes through before making it on the market, Dr. Wells goes on to say, “Pediatricians believe that children should receive all recommended vaccines. This is not the same as giving the vaccines that individual states require for school entry. States have different vaccine requirements, ranging from minimal to adhering to the full recommendations of the CDC and AAP.”

A warning to moms and dads—“Because most vaccine preventable diseases still occur in the United States and are common in many foreign countries, it is important to vaccinate children. Measles, diphtheria and polio are common in many countries. Smallpox is the only vaccine-preventable disease that has been eradicated. This means that vaccine-preventable diseases are a plane ride away.”

What about the timing of the vaccinations? “Sometimes families are concerned about giving several vaccines at the same time. Vaccines are composed of antigens, which induce an immune (disease fighting) response in the body. Babies are exposed to several thousand antigens every day through food, playing on the floor and putting toys in their mouth. Although children get more vaccines today, the number of antigens in today’s vaccines is fewer than older vaccines,” she says.

*Article originally appeared in Access Magazine, August 2017.

Everyone has heard of herd immunity but what is it? Dr. Wells answers, “Herd Immunity is the benefit that everyone receives from a vaccinated population. When a critical number of people are vaccinated, everyone, including the very young and very old, receive some protection from disease since the disease is less likely to be circulating in the community (herd). Unfortunately, some parents forget or skip vaccines, eliminating the herd immunity effect. This is why it is important for as many members of the community be vaccinated according to CDC recommendations.”

She goes on to say, “Summer time is the perfect time to update your child’s vaccines. Pediatricians are less busy with school related illnesses and influenza. Your visit will involve a wellness check that is age appropriate. Well checks evaluate: growth; development; nutrition; disease prevention; vaccination status; and, address concerns and issues, such as adolescent smoking, drinking, depression, sexual activity and drug abuse. A wellness visit is much more involved than a sports physical, but can include sports clearance. Everyone over the age of two years old needs a yearly wellness visit.”

A sometimes sticky topic is the HPV vaccine. According to Dr. Wells, “The HPV vaccine is more frequently overlooked than other vaccines. HPV is so common that everyone will be infected at some point. There are more than 40 strains of HPV that cause infection. Some of these strains can cause a variety of cancer. Yearly, HPV causes more than 17,000 cancers in women and more than 9,000 cancers in men. Infection can occur without sexual intercourse. Cancers associated with HPV infection include: cervical cancer in females, cancer of the penis in males, anal-rectal cancers, as well as head and neck cancers. HPV associated cancers affects 1 in 160 children. The vaccine is administered at the 11 years old visit because the immune system before puberty is robust and gives the highest level of protection. Children less than 14 will only need two doses of the HPV vaccine, rather than three. Children who receive HPV vaccine do not have sex any earlier than those who received only the other vaccines typically administered to teens.”

Your child’s health is important and is a priority for your pediatrician. Start a conversation with your doctor and have a safe and happy summer!