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Get a healthy start to school year with vaccinations

In August, you’ll see back-to-school ads from virtually every store. These ads will try to convince you that you need to buy clothes, shoes, computers, school supplies, sporting equipment, lunch making materials, cleaning wipes and a myriad of other products.

Children legitimately need some of these items. Other items are in the nice to have category. The average family will spend in excess of $600 per child for back-to-school items — and significantly more for college-bound students, especially when they need to furnish that freshman dorm room. Back-to-school has become the second largest shopping season in the year.

There is one item that may not be on your back-to-school list: immunizations. They’re something every child and young adult should have before they head back to school. That may be why August is National Immunization Awareness Month!

Some of the greatest medical breakthroughs have been the development of effective vaccines for illnesses which have killed or injured hundreds of thousands of people in the past. According to the CDC, “… among children born during 1994-2013, vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes, at a net savings of $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs.”

In recent years, we’ve looked eagerly for vaccines for HIV, Hepatitis C, Ebola, the Zika virus, and other emerging diseases, just as in the past people looked for vaccines for polio, measles, mumps, rubella and smallpox.

Many of the vaccinations we receive in this country are for “childhood illnesses.” Despite the inoffensive title, these illnesses can be quite serious or even deadly, especially for the very young, the elderly, or those with immune systems compromised by diabetes, cancer, lung diseases or other illnesses. Many people currently live with long term effects of diseases acquired in childhood — some of which, like polio — have been largely eradicated thanks to immunizations.

Vaccinations are also important to protect those who for medical reasons can’t be immunized. Community immunity or “herd immunity” helps protect these individuals by containing the spread of diseases.

Add this one extra item to that back-to-school list. Make sure your child is fully immunized. While you’re at it, check to see if your immunizations are all up to date — immunity to many diseases, such as whooping cough and tetanus — can dissipate over time, and the flu vaccine is different each year.

There is good news with this back-to-school item, though — recommended vaccinations are available as a preventive health service through marketplace plans, so this won’t add to your back-to-school expenses. Just be sure to follow your plan’s guidance on where you should get your vaccinations to be sure the cost is covered.

The State of Oregon provides excellent resources for parents at public.health.oregon.gov.

Every child (and parent) should have a safe and healthy school year. Immunizations are an easy way to start out at the head of the class.

Susan Johnson is Region 10 director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.