Back to School, Back to the Doctor

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
October 7, 2016

Flu vaccine signIt’s that time of year again. Students are shopping for school supplies and fall wardrobes, while parents are breathing sighs of relief as their children board the bus to school.

But back-to-school season is also a time for coughs, sneezes, and germs. In all the excitement of the new school year, don’t let your health fall through the cracks — get vaccinated.

Vaccination has many benefits, both for individuals and for society.

Thanks to vaccination, diseases like smallpox, polio, and diphtheria are a thing of the past.[1] And each year, vaccines save 9 million lives around the world.[2]

Today, getting vaccinated doesn’t always require a shot, as some vaccines can be taken orally.[3]

But despite the many benefits of vaccination, many remain skeptical.

Part of this distrust stems from the myths and falsehoods circulated by the anti-vaccine movement.  For example, anti-vaccination advocates argue that vaccines may cause autism or other disorders.

But such claims have been roundly debunked. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find that there is no causal relationship between vaccines and autism.[4] This fear exists because autism often presents itself around a child’s first birthday – roughly the same time that young people typically receive certain vaccines..[5]

Others believe that vaccines can cause the very illnesses they are meant to prevent. This may have been a legitimate concern over half a century ago. But in the modern world, almost all vaccines use a “killed” virus, so there is no chance of contracting the disease at all.[6]

The few vaccines that use a weakened “live” virus — like the chicken pox vaccine — may cause a slight fever and rash in some patients, but these symptoms are far less severe than if the child contracted the illness itself.[7]

Failing to vaccinate can have harmful effects on a whole community. For many diseases, we have not yet vaccinated a large enough proportion of the population to guarantee “herd immunity.”[8] In other words, too few Americans have been vaccinated to keep the national population safe from the illness.

For this reason, thousands of children across the United States still contract diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.[9] Since 2010 alone, there have been at least 10,000 cases of whooping cough each year.[10] And while the United States declared measles eradicated in 2000, almost 700 people reported having the condition in 2014.[11]

When one child contracts an illness, that puts a whole school at risk. That’s why getting every child vaccinated should be a national priority.

At St. George’s University, we take vaccines seriously. We’ve hosted a workshop for journalists on how to effectively communicate information on vaccines to the public.[12] And since vaccinations aren’t just for humans, our veterinary students offer free animal vaccinations to the local community every year.[13]

Vaccination should be part of everybody’s back-to-school routine — so don’t procrastinate! The sooner you get vaccinated, the safer and healthier your community will be.


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