I’m a pediatrician. Here’s what I want you to know about vaccines.

By Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

dr-katherine-williamson
Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

Proper vaccination is important for all people, but especially infants and babies. When children follow the recommended immunization schedule outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), they are better protected against potentially life-threatening diseases.

As a pediatrician, I get a lot of questions about baby vaccination and vaccines for children. In observance of national immunization month, here are the most common questions I get about vaccines.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines are one of the most important things we can do to help protect our children’s health. Vaccines and proper handwashing, more so than all other interventions, have proven to be the most safe and effective ways to prevent disease.

What is the proper vaccine schedule?

The current immunization schedule outlined by the AAP and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been researched and proven to be the most effective and safest way for children to be vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases. It’s important to know that no alternative schedule has been shown to be as safe and effective.

I get frequent questions from expectant and new parents who are concerned about the number of vaccines given to kids at one time under the recommended schedule. The amount of antigen (protein) in the vaccine that is put into your child’s body is 100,000 times less than if your child has a common cold, so there’s no concern about overwhelming their immune system when they get their vaccines.

Do I really need a flu shot every year?

Yes. Influenza causes a higher number of death and illness over any other disease annually in the US, and your best chance of preventing influenza is the flu vaccine. Symptoms of influenza include high fevers, chills, muscle aches, and respiratory symptoms that can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure. Children under 2 years and adults over 60 years of age are at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill if they are exposed to influenza.

The CDC recommends an annual influenza vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. You should be vaccinated as soon as the influenza vaccine becomes available. Although flu season peaks between December and February, it can start as early as October and last through May.

What can I do to make my child more comfortable while receiving a vaccination?

Studies have shown that preparing your child for vaccinations should ideally include three components” explaining what will happen, how it will feel, and strategies for coping with any related stress or discomfort. Here’s more tips on how to make shots less stressful.

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6 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe from the Flu

Flu season is here. We spoke to Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, about how to keep your kids safe from the flu.

Dr. Katherine Williamson
Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

#1 Get the flu shot

Make sure that each member of your family gets the flu shot every year. The Centers for Disease Control recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 months and older. Vaccinations are especially important for those at increased risk for flu complications, including pregnant women. Encourage family members and caregivers around your child to get the flu shot. Of the more than 170 pediatric deaths from the flu during the 2017-2018 influenza season, 80 percent of those did not receive a flu shot.

#2 Practice proper hand washing

Remind your child that we always wash our hands for at least 15 seconds (always with soap, and always with vigorous rubbing) after using the restroom, before and after eating, after playing outside, and after sneezing, coughing or touching your face. Aside from getting the flu shot every year, proper hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of illnesses including the flu.

#3 Stay away from people who have a fever

Ask friends, family, or caregivers who have had a fever or chills within the past 24 hours to stay away from your child. Do not send your child to school or daycare for at least 24 hours after they experience a fever or chills.

#4 Teach proper cough etiquette

Teach your child to cover his nose and mouth when he coughs. Parents should model good behavior.

#5 The importance of sleep

Sleep! The best immune system boost you can give your child is good sleep at any age. The right amount of sleep for your child is however much sleep he/she needs when he/she can wake up naturally without an alarm clock or mommy clock waking them up. For some kids this is 8 hours, while other need more than 10.

#6 Healthy eating

Healthy vegetables, fruit, and protein. You are what you eat! Eating processed sugar-filled foods can decrease your immunity by inhibiting your body to fight against diseases. Offer your kids healthy foods without the option of choosing the less healthy snack. They will eat when they are hungry, and when they are hungry, make sure it is healthy options that are available.

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Is it OK to Skip your Child’s Checkup if They’re Healthy?

The first few years of your child’s life are a major factor in their lifelong growth and development, which is why it’s not ok to skip your child’s checkup even if they’re healthy. Well child checks are an opportunity to track your child’s development, make sure they’re getting the care they need to stay healthy, and for parents to get answers to any parenting questions. Families are busier than ever these days, so it may be tempting to skip something called a “well child check” if your child is feeling healthy. Here are five reasons why it’s not ok to skip your child’s checkup, even if they’re feeling healthy.

Dr. Katherine Williamson
Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

#1 Relationship building

It’s important for your child to develop a rapport with their pediatrician. We are positive role models for young kids and help lessen their fear of going to the doctor. When they’re a teenager, parents are often asked to leave the exam room, so the pediatrician can speak to them in private. Your child will feel more comfortable asking personal questions about their body and puberty later in life, if their pediatrician has been a constant figure and steady resource since childhood.

#2 Mental health check up

Well checks also serve as a mental and behavioral health check-in. Your pediatrician can help evaluate your child’s mental health and wellbeing over time.

#3 Screen time discussion

Do you ever struggle with the question, “How much screen time is too much?” or find yourself battling your children over screen time limits? Your pediatrician can be a resource for you in helping reinforce screen time limits with your child. We can help explain to your children why their bodies need less screen time and more play, and how too much screen time affects their body and brain.

#4 Enforcing healthy habits

Well child checks are a great opportunity to reinforce healthy habits. Often, kids will listen to their pediatrician more than their parents. We can remind children about the importance of eating healthy, doing their homework, brushing their teeth, wearing helmets—and listening to their parents!

#5 Getting answers to questions you didn’t know you had

During many appointments in my office, my conversation with parents takes a turn from why they originally came in to see me. They might have an appointment to get a rash checked out, but then I’ll notice a mole on the child I hadn’t seen before, and they’ll realize they too were wondering about that, but just forgot to ask. Pediatricians are resources for parents just as much as we are caretakers of your children. We’re here to help you get answers to your questions on acne, headaches, parenting skills, academic concerns, and anything in between.

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Meet Dr. Katherine Williamson

CHOC Children’s wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC pediatrician.

Dr. Katherine Williamson
Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

Q: What is your education and training?
A: I studied international relations at Pomona College, then went on to the University of California, San Francisco to study medicine. I completed my pediatric residency training at CHOC Children’s.

Q: What are your administrative appointments?
A: I am the chair for pediatrics at Mission Hospital where my practice rounds on newborn babies. I am a partner within my practice at Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates (SOCPA), which is part of the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network. Within this network, I am the SOCPA lead for the IT team where we are beta testing a new electronic health record system to be used at CHOC Children’s and in the CHOC Primary Care Network.

Q: What advocacy work are you involved in?

A: I am the vice president for the Orange County chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, (AAP-OC) where we focus on child advocacy and serve as an academic and resource base for pediatricians and pediatric sub-specialists. Through our legislative advocacy efforts in the last few years, we have helped to pass SB 277 to keep kids vaccinated in California, and raise the smoking age for cigarettes and vaping from 18 to 21 years of age. On a community level, we have created a mental health committee bringing together pediatricians and mental health providers working to address the mental health needs of our Orange County youth. And we have newly created the School Health Committee where we are working to increase communication and collaboration between pediatricians and schools, with goals that include the creation of an electronic HIPAA-protected communication system between teachers and pediatricians, and to better understand how to address the unmet needs of children with learning disabilities.     

Q: What are your special clinical interests?
A:  Child nutrition and exercise, and healthy body image

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?
A: I did my pediatric residency at CHOC from 2008 to 2011, then stayed on staff as a transport physician which is still currently one of my roles. I joined my pediatric practice, Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates (SOCPA) in 2012, which has partnered with CHOC in the past year to form the CHOC Primary Care Network, thus keeping me in the CHOC family on many levels.

Q: What are some new programs or developments within your specialty?
A: Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates (SOCPA), along with two other pediatric private practice groups in Orange County – Seaview Pediatrics and Pediatric & Adult Medicine – have partnered in the last year with CHOC Children’s to form the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network. I am very excited to be a part of this partnership because through our collaboration we can share the best evidence-based medicine practices and increase communication between CHOC inpatient services, sub-specialists, and children’s primary care practices, thus improving patient care. In the near future we will have a shared electronic health record system that unlike so many EHRs in the country will be geared toward pediatrics because we are designing it ourselves.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?
A:  Pharyngitis, bronchospasm, fever, otitis media, common cold, pneumonia, acne, jaundice

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about you or your division at CHOC?
A: Kids come first! And all kids needs a medical home.

Q:  What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?
A: I have been a part of the CHOC family for many years, from residency through now, and I am inspired by CHOC’s multi-disciplinary team approach to take care of our kids. I have seen CHOC grow with the new tower, expansion of the specialty departments, and most recently CHOC’s extension to the community with the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network to reach out to kids in their medical home. It’s all about the kids!

Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A: I believe every person has a right to quality health care, and I have been fascinated by the human body since I was a kid. Like I tell my patients, it’s the coolest machine you will ever own. I love being a part of keeping kids healthy, and I love teaching parents and kids about their own bodies so that they can take ownership in their health and well-being too.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?
A: One of two things, or maybe both – a journalist, and/or a Broadway performer. I loved to sing and act on stage much of my childhood, and I believe telling a story, whether fictional or non-fictional, is the best way to relate and reach out to others.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
A: Anything outdoors – running, swimming, biking, and scuba diving. And traveling abroad whenever I can.

Q: What have you learned from your patients, or what is the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?
A: I learn every day from my patients to find joy in the little things in life – from seeing how your finger lights up red when you touch the otoscope light to the wonders that bribery with stickers can do. I am laughing every day!

Looking for a pediatrician? Find one near you.

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How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently lifted their rule on no screen time for kids under the age of two. Given advances in technology, media is everywhere these days- it’s hard for kids to not get enthralled by a TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

“The new guidelines reflect a shift in focus to include not only what is on the screen but also the involvement of the live person in the room to interact in the media experience,” Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, says. Though the AAP says it’s still best for babies less than 18 months to avoid screen time, live video chat is an exception. While babies under 18 months are too young to understand what they are seeing on media screens, some research has shown that babies as young as six months can emotionally engage and interact with a loved one on FaceTime or Skype, for example.

But how you know how much screen time is healthy for your child?

how much screen time
The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on how much screen time is appropriate for children.

The AAP recommends creating a family media use plan to help your family establish a purpose to consuming media, create healthy habits for screen time, and stay on track with goals.

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