Immunization Schedule 2024: What Parents Need to Know
With the new year comes a new, updated immunization schedule from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
This is especially important for parents of children attending school in New York. Children attending day care and pre-K through 12th grade in New York State must receive all required vaccinations from the recommended schedule in order to remain in school.
We sat down with some health experts to put together this guide of what you need to know about the immunization schedule, including what it is, what’s new this year and why it’s important to follow it.
What is an immunization schedule? How is it determined, and why is it important for parents to follow it?
Immunization schedules are specific guidelines on when vaccines should be administered. Determined by the ACIP, schedules are determined by factors including the patient’s age and when they received their last dose of vaccine.
The immunization schedule is carefully studied and created under many levels of oversight. Health professionals do not recommend deviating from the schedule or vaccinating on a delayed schedule.
“Any delay in vaccines just is putting your child at risk for these serious conditions,” says Dr. Ashley Stephens, pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. “We don’t recommend it, and there’s actually a lot of practices who don’t allow that.”
Dr. Wendy Johnson, pediatrician at Tribeca Pediatrics, says that the timing of the immunization schedule is determined to protect children from illnesses when they’d be most vulnerable to them.
As a result, deviating from the schedule can have serious consequences.
“That’s kind of like a hole where that particular disease can get through and their child could get sick,” Johnson says. “And all of the things that we have vaccines for are things that potentially can cause serious harm and maybe even death.”
Why is there a new immunization schedule every year? What updates to the immunization schedule should parents be aware of this year?
The CDC puts out a new immunization schedule every year to keep up to date with changes in formulations of vaccines, new vaccines and updated recommendations regarding who should receive which vaccines and when.
This year, the updated immunization schedule saw the addition of a new RSV vaccine (under the brand name Beyfortus) for children under eight months old and some high-risk kids between eight and 19 months old.
What’s unique about Beyfortus is that it gives protection against RSV right away, meaning infants will be protected from RSV more quickly.
“It’s actually giving you the protection that your body usually develops,” Stephens says. “You don’t need those couple weeks to give protection.”
Every schedule includes an updated flu shot to target new strains that may be going around, and this year the recommendations suggest that everyone six months and older should get a flu shot.
Some vaccines were taken off the schedule as well, including the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV-13), diphtheria and tetanus toxoid vaccine (DT), bivalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and Menactra.
Even though a new immunization schedule is put out every year, parents shouldn’t worry if they previously vaccinated their children according to the “old” schedule.
In cases where a child might have missed a vaccination (for example, they’ve moved to the United States from a country where certain vaccines aren’t required), Johnson says there’s a catch-up immunization schedule to get kids on track.
When looking at the vaccine schedule, parents might be confused to see diseases that aren’t common anymore, like polio or measles. Why is it important to continue vaccinating against these illnesses, even when they don’t pop up much anymore?
Vaccinating large groups of people for diseases that have become rare is what keeps them rare, Casares says.
“Scientists call this ‘herd immunity,’” Casares says. “Even though we don’t see these diseases often, they can still re-emerge if there’s not enough immunity in a community.”
Herd immunity is especially important for members of the population who aren’t able to get vaccinated. For example, children can’t get a measles vaccine until they’re a year old, so it’s up to the adults around them to get vaccinated to avoid spreading the illness.
Johnson refers to diseases like these as “opportunistic,” on the lookout for any entry-point to spread.
“Even though you don’t hear about these cases, these things are still there,” Johnson says. “And if you don’t vaccinate against it, it’s like an open door.”
Just because there hasn’t been a local outbreak of a disease in a while doesn’t mean the disease is gone for good.
“It doesn’t make news when you say, ‘Oh, we didn’t see a case of measles this year,’” Stephens says. “But these are serious illnesses that vaccines prevent.”
Some parents might be wary about vaccinating their children for different reasons. How can they manage some of these anxieties?
Casares says that while parents might have some hesitations surrounding vaccines, it’s important to remember that they’re important to keeping children healthy and safe.
“It’s completely understandable that parents may worry about vaccinating their children,” Casares says. “It’s important to remember that the risk of not vaccinating kids is significantly higher than any side effects associated with the vaccines themselves.”
Johnson advises parents to “stay away from Dr. Google,” as much of the information online is put out by individuals not qualified to give medical information to generate clicks. She also recommends doctor-reviewed sites like kidshealth.org if parents are on the look out for information online.
If you have questions about vaccines or anything on the immunization schedule, don’t be afraid to ask.
“It’s important to talk with your pediatrician or other trusted health professionals to make sure your questions are answered and you feel confident getting the vaccine,” Stephens says.
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