UW Medicine pediatrician Elizabeth Dawson-Hahn, M.D., who works in the Harborview Medical Center Pediatric Primary Care Clinic, strongly recommends that all her patients receive all the recommended vaccines, including an annual flu vaccine to protect them during flu season.
Dawson-Hahn says most parents who have concerns about immunizations usually bring them up in the first years of their child’s life, because that’s when the majority of immunizations are given. "I explain that the reason why we don’t see diseases like measles, mumps and polio that affected people in our parents’ generation is that we have vaccines," she says. "They’re incredibly effective in preventing disease and were the greatest advance in public health in the 20th century."
The recommended vaccines for preteens, ages 11-12, are:
- Tdap, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (or whooping cough)
- Meningococcal vaccine, which protects against a bacteria that can cause dangerous brain, spinal cord and blood infections
- HPV vaccine, which protects against the human papilloma virus
HPV vaccine most effective when given early
Concerns about the HPV vaccine, which protects against human papilloma virus, are common. The virus causes cervical cancer as well as genital warts and cancers of the mouth, throat and anus. "To prevent those diseases, and to halt the spread of the virus, it’s important to vaccinate both girls and boys," says Dawson-Hahn. "Because HPV is primarily spread through sexual contact, some parents ask why their children should be vaccinated if they are not having sex. We try to give it to children starting around age 11 so they will be protected from the virus well before they ever engage in sexual activity. Similar to the idea that we protect children against other vaccine-preventable disease as early as possible so that they will be protected in case they are ever exposed. The vaccines were tested in preteens and found to be safe and most effective when given early."
Although some parents are concerned about adverse reactions, most vaccines have been extensively tested. "Adverse reactions are usually limited to redness and soreness at the sight of the injection," says Dawson-Hahn. "A few parents are concerned about reports that have linked autism to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and a vaccine preservative called thimerosal. Those reports have been carefully examined and ultimately were retracted from the medical literature. Many studies have now been done that show the vaccines are safe and do not cause autism. Thimerosal has not been included in vaccines since 2001."
To schedule a back-to-school appointment or update vaccines with a primary care physician, call 855-520-5151.
UW Medicine Health: What is your patient care philosophy?
Dawson-Hahn: "Practicing pediatrics is an opportunity to partner with both the child and their family to provide culturally sensitive, quality preventive health care to allow children to reach their intellectual, physical and developmental potential."
UW Medicine Health: What are some of the most exciting development in your field?
Dawson-Hahn: "I am excited about the advances in DNA sequencing technology that are starting to allow us to better understand the human microbiota – the many microorganisms that live on and within our body, that make up an ecosystem that lives within us. Understanding this ecosystem is an important part of improving our health and combating disease. As we learn more about what factors change this ecosystem, and in turn our own body responses to disease, we will better understand potential causes and treatment for disease. Research is ongoing related to the human microbiota in the areas of cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma obesity, malnutrition, autism, and in many other areas. We are excited to discover how we can provide better pediatric care with an improved understanding of our microbiota."
UW Medicine Health: Why do you choose to practice at UW Medicine?
Dawson-Hahn: "I am proud to work at Harborview Pediatrics Clinic where there is a shared mission is to provide and teach exemplary patient care for the most vulnerable populations in King County."