WASHINGTON - Here's one big item that should be at the top of any family's back- to-school checklist: making sure the kids have all their required shots.
A number of immunizations are needed, and major school districts in the D.C. area are going out of their way to make information and forms available online.
Requirements are set at the state level with guidance from the federal government. Maryland, Virginia and D.C. all adhere to national standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for immunizations against diptheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and hepatitis B.
But they vary on another, more controversial vaccine.
Virginia and D.C. both require the human papillomavirus vaccine for preteen girls, although parents can opt out after meeting certain conditions. Maryland does not require the HPV vaccine. Across the region, there is no requirement for boys.
Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Children's National Medical Center, says some parents remain uncomfortable with the vaccine because it guards against a sexually transmitted virus that has been linked to various cancers.
She says it must be administered before a child becomes sexually active, and some moms and dads get uneasy thinking about their kids and their future sex lives.
DeBiasi says other parents have raised concerns about possible side effects from the HPV vaccine.
"They think it is dangerous, and we don't have data -- none of which is true," she says.
The CDC says that last year only a third of teenage girls nationwide had received the required three doses of the vaccine. That puts the U.S. vaccination rate near the bottom among developed countries.
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