Parents are getting kids ready for school, which means picking up school supplies, finding the perfect first-day outfit, and most importantly, preventing childhood illness with vaccines.

Public and private school students in Kansas are required to get vaccines for measles, whooping cough, mumps and chickenpox, as in past years.

Kansas also has new requirements. Students entering kindergarten and first grade now need two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine, and students entering seventh grade (or 11th grade, if not vaccinated earlier) must receive the meningococcal ACWY vaccine.

Vaccines work. Health authorities from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and every major physician group support vaccination as a safe and effective way to prevent childhood illness. Vaccines reduce children’s risk of illness by working with their immune systems to create natural immunity against disease.

The Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, a group of public health experts, produces recommendations for states on vaccine requirements. The change in Kansas law brings our state in line with their recommendations.

Both new requirements protect children against serious illness. Meningococcal disease is a rare but terrifying disease that can lead to meningitis — an infection of the lining of the brain. Spread via close contact with an infected person, meningococcal disease kills 10 percent to 15 percent of infected people, even with treatment. Those who survive frequently suffer hearing loss, brain damage, organ damage scarring or amputations.

Hepatitis A is spread from person to person or through consumption of contaminated food or water. The illness can cause fever, tiredness, poor appetite, vomiting, stomach pain and jaundice.

The best way to prevent these illnesses is vaccination, but more than a fourth of Kansas teens are not vaccinated against meningococcal disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The number of unvaccinated teens places Kansas among the bottom of meningococcal vaccine coverage, but the reasons for our low vaccination rate are complex.

Vaccine opponents spoke at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment public meeting last month. Many expressed concerns about government overreach and vaccine side-effects, but vaccines are safe. Students may be exempted from required vaccines if inoculation would be a threat to their health or if they belong to a religious group that opposes vaccination.

Still, opposition to vaccines is only one of the reasons Kansans, particularly adults, don’t receive recommended vaccinations. Limited access to primary care, lack of knowledge about vaccine schedules, incomplete records and other factors can lead to gaps in vaccine coverage. The fewer people are vaccinated, the higher the risk of disease spreading from person to person.

Ensuring all Kansans are educated and able to access vaccinations at the appropriate time is an important part of improving vaccination rates.

This fall, children will pack their new pencils and slip on new shoes to start the school year. Their new vaccines will help them begin the year healthy and well.