Pediatricians Weigh In On What Parents Need to Know
Published: October 30, 2023
By: Paige Townley
Most parents know the basics of keeping their children healthy from eating healthy to getting enough sleep and exercise. But what about beyond those basics? Immunization schedules, routine checkups, the handling of chronic health issues and even after-school activities all play a role in a child’s health, and it’s often difficult to keep up with. We spoke with local pediatricians to get up-to-date details on what parents need to know to keep their children healthy.
The Alabama Department of Public Health noted that parents can protect their children from upwards of 16 serious diseases just by getting them vaccinated. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back an immunization schedule for children from birth to 18 years of age. The schedule is based on the available data for each vaccine, each of which must be licensed by the Food & Drug Administration to be on it. Doctors recommend that parents keep their child on the schedule, getting each dose of a vaccine at the recommended age. “Vaccines are very, very low risk and very high reward when you think about the number of lives saved because of the vaccines we use now,” says Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “A vaccine only works if you get it; it doesn’t work sitting on a shelf.”
A regularly scheduled annual checkup is an ideal time for ensuring a child is up to date on vaccines, but another essential time to consider is before a child goes back to school, increasing their exposure to sicknesses significantly.
A wide range of needed immunizations are on the required immunization list, but there are others not required that should also be considered, notes Dr. Peily Soong, a pediatrician at Pediatrics East in Trussville. “Meningitis and HPV vaccines are not required by schools, but they are recommended for children to get at the age of 11,” Soong says. “Typically, when children come in for their middle school shots, we recommend to go ahead and give those too.”
Parents should also remember that while grade schools may not require certain vaccines, some colleges have changed their requirements to require them. “Many colleges have started requiring the meningitis vaccine over the last five to seven years,” Soong adds. “That’s just something for parents to keep in mind and consider as they are making decisions on what’s best for their child.”
It is recommended for school-aged children to have general checkups with their pediatrician once a year. It’s often easy for parents to forget to schedule if it’s not a year that requires vaccinations, Soong adds, but it’s still critical to schedule. “Those are the times we look at how their child is growing, making sure they are developing well,” Soong says.
Those annual checkups are also a prime time to discuss any chronic issues a child may suffer from, such as asthma, ADHD, eczema and allergies. “Routine checkups are often when we make sure no adjustments are needed on medication for children with chronic conditions such as these,” Soong says. But depending on what chronic condition a child may suffer from, it may require scheduling checkups more frequently than that, Soong adds.
Checkups vs. Regular Appointments
A common misconception for many parents, Soong says, is that specific problems, such as chronic headaches, depression or anxiety, can be put off until an annual checkup, but that is rarely the case. It’s best to go ahead and bring a child in to see their pediatrician about that new complaint and address it sooner rather than later. “If you come in specifically for that issue, you may get more attention than you would if you bring multiple problems at a checkup,” Soong says. “After all, checkups are for looking at their general health and chronic issues we already know about. It’s better to bring up those new problems or complaints at a separate visit.”
Once a child reaches school age, there are often many health-related issues that pediatricians can easily help parents navigate. One of those is specifically for children with chronic issues, such as asthma or food allergies. Often, schools have forms that parents must fill out and have on file for students to have medications at school. In addition, any child who is active in sports or physical after-school activities is often required to have a physical evaluation to participate, including a form from the doctor. “Bring those forms in to your appointment and we can help,” Soong says.
Paige Townley is a Birmingham Parent staff writer and a Birmingham freelance writer.