If school hasn’t started for the kids in your life yet, the first day is likely only a matter of days away. All children ages 2 through 18 attending daycare or school in New York City (and state) are required to have been immunized against contagious diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. And starting this year, seventh graders in New York state are required to be vaccinated against meningitis. In addition, preteens and teens are encouraged to get vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. Dosage levels and vaccine schedules can be found at school.nyc.gov. We discussed the importance of vaccinations with Dr. Gail Shust, assistant professor of pediatrics, infectious diseases and medical education at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System.

First, let’s talk about the dispelled rumor that vaccines cause autism.

That has been 100 percent disproved. There is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism. That link doesn’t exist.

Are there side effects families should be concerned about when kids get immunized?

Just like any medication, there can always be side effects. If any parents are concerned about that, they should definitely talk to the doctors and nurses that they see. … These vaccines are tested on literally thousands of people before they’re given out to the public. The most common side effect is a local reaction. … Some kids will get just a little local tenderness, where they got the vaccine.

Let’s talk about the HPV and meningitis vaccines. There was some controversy about the HPV vaccine, some people claiming it was the equivalent of granting teenagers permission to have sex.

Right, when they’ve actually looked at that in studies to see, it really hasn’t proven to be the case. It’s an amazing thing. You’re basically giving a gift to your children, because you’re saying, “Look at this, I want to help protect you against the possibility of developing cervical cancer later in your life.” I’m a mom of two girls, and ... I encourage them to get all of these recommended vaccinations, including HPV.

Should boys get the HPV vaccine too, even though it’s touted as a cervical cancer preventive?

There are other sexually transmitted infections that they can get, and also the idea, again, of community immunity: protecting each other. There are some people who can’t get vaccines: either very young babies or people who are immune-compromised for various reasons.   

Colleges are requiring students to be immunized against meningitis before they enroll, is that right?

That’s right. It’s something that’s recommended for college. Now we have a new [vaccine], some people might have read about. Locally, there was an outbreak in Princeton a couple years ago of meningitis B, which was a kind of meningitis that wasn’t covered in the old vaccine. Now, there is a new vaccine that covers that.

What else is important for parents to know about getting their kids immunized?

The other thing that people still have some concerns about is mercury in vaccines. Most vaccines don’t have any type of mercury in them. … Ethlymercury, which is a type of mercury which has some harmful effects, hasn’t been in vaccines in this country for over 10 years.

Like I said, I’m a mom. I have two kids, and I think parents at the end of the day just want to do what’s best for their kids. It’s just really important, if anyone does have any questions or concerns, that they just talk to their pediatrician about it. Because, again, these things are studied extensively, and a general pediatrician, unfortunately, has seen the effects of some of these diseases that these vaccines protect against.

You have medical questions? We have answers. Metro is teaming up with the experts at the esteemed Mount Sinai Health System to provide answers to your most pressing medical concerns. Send us an email at askmtsinai@metro.us. We’ll select one question and publish an answer every other week.