MONDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Boys should get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to protect them against genital warts, and all children should receive the H1N1 vaccine to guard against swine flu, according to updated guidelines on childhood and teen vaccines.
The new vaccine schedules -- issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians -- also recommend using combination vaccines whenever possible.
"These are life-threatening illness that vaccines prevent, and if you have a combination vaccine that's safe and effective and requires one less stick for your child and one less trip to the doctor, it makes sense to me -- as a father -- to think about that," said Dr. David W. Kimberlin, a professor of pediatrics and co-director of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Kimberlin is a member of the committee that created the new immunization schedules.
The new vaccine schedules are published in the January issue of Pediatrics and online on Jan. 4.
The most significant changes are:
- A recommendation that children older than 6 months receive the H1N1 influenza vaccine.
- A newly licensed HPV vaccine for girls, known as HPV2, to protect them from cervical cancer, which can be caused by certain strains of HPV. Girls should get their first dose of either the HPV2 or the earlier HPV4 vaccine, which is still considered effective, around age 11 or 12.
- A suggestion that a three-dose series of the HPV4 vaccine can be given to boys between 9 and 18 years old to prevent genital warts.
- A statement that the use of combination vaccines are generally preferred over separate injections.
- The need to revaccinate some high-risk children who have already received the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). Kids at high risk tend to be those with immune system disorders. Booster shots aren't recommended for those whose only risk factor is living in a dormitory setting, according to the new vaccine schedules.
Overall, Kimberlin said he thinks most parents are following these recommended schedules and protecting their children against what can be life-threatening illnesses. However, "parents are inundated with misinformation or incomplete information about vaccinations," he noted. "And, with all the noise out there, people start thinking there might be something to what they're hearing."
Dr. Michael Green, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said that although most children are vaccinated, "there is a fairly large cohort of kids who don't receive optimal immunizations either for religious reasons, or their parents don't believe in immunizations because of health concerns, such as a fear of autism."
But the data has consistently shown that the measles vaccine doesn't cause autism, he said. Measles, on the other hand, can cause brain damage, or even kill children, explained Green. And, while some parents may think that they don't have to worry about these diseases because most U.S. children are vaccinated, an outbreak for unvaccinated children might be only a plane ride away. Last spring, said Green, someone visiting from another country brought measles with them. They were in close proximity to an unvaccinated American family who then contracted the measles. The outbreak ended quickly and without any serious consequences, but others might be more severe, he warned.
"People forget that when there used to be measles that kids died, or they ended up with brain damage. The risk-to-benefit ratios with today's vaccines are tremendously slanted to the benefit side. And, yet between every one to three months, I see a child with a vaccine-preventable illness," said Green.
"The vaccines we have today are the safest vaccines we've ever had, and I hope that parents recognize that it is a matter of life and death, and that they choose to do everything they can to protect their children," said Kimberlin. "Time and time again, when immunization rates fall, diseases come back, and then the immunization rates go up again."
Learn more about childhood vaccines from the Nemours Foundation's KidsHealth Web site.