Vaccine Awareness

Little boy playing in leaves

As we settle into fall and winter approaches, it’s inevitable that part of your little one’s exploration will include viral/bacterial contact. While it may only lead to a simple cold, it could be something more serious with vaccine-preventable illnesses such as pertussis (whooping cough), measles and influenza (flu) on the rise. The best way to combat illness is with prevention measures such as hand-washing and through immunizations.

The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevent 2–3 million deaths per year from vaccine-preventable illnesses. Immunizations protect people against communicable diseases that can be spread through contact or droplets in the air. Immunizations work by vaccinating using a dead or weakened virus/bacteria, which triggers an immune response that prompts the body to create an antibody that will attack and destroy that specific pathogen if a person is exposed again. Some vaccines will require boosters before a person is fully immunized.

Vaccines do more than protect individuals; they protect communities through a concept known as herd immunity. We rely on herd immunity to help protect those who don’t respond to a vaccine or who are unable to get the vaccine due to allergy or contraindications. Herd immunity relies on 95 percent of the population being vaccinated. Unfortunately due to a reduction in vaccination rates, vaccine-preventable illnesses such as pertussis, measles and influenza are on the rise in the United States and worldwide.

  • A decline in the vaccination rate of the population led to an increase in measles outbreaks where herd immunity had been compromised. In 2011 the measles vaccination rate in France dropped to 89 percent; following the decline in the vaccination rate, 14,000 people in France developed measles.
  • A spike in pertussis cases in 2012 led to 18 deaths in the United States, mostly in infants under 3 months of age. In 2013 the number of reported pertussis cases declined and was attributed to widespread immunization of adolescents and adults to pertussis. While pertussis cases still were quite high in 2013 even with the year-over-year reduction, hopefully with increasing knowledge a further reduction will occur annually.

While children receive the majority of vaccines in the first two years of life, children may not be fully protected until they’ve had all of their boosters. Infants are the most vulnerable to disease, which is why the immunization schedule specifies the majority of vaccines to be received by two years of age. In light of the natural vulnerability of infants, it’s important to make sure that the whole family is up–to-date on immunizations to protect those who haven’t been fully immunized or are too young to receive immunizations. Certain immunizations like the flu shot need to be given annually due to the ever-changing morphology of the influenza viruses.

Myths and misinformation may confuse parents who are trying to make sound decisions regarding vaccines. Certain allergies or disease conditions may make it so a person is not a candidate for a vaccine. Make sure to get the facts and speak with your child’s health care provider if you have concerns regarding the safety of vaccines.

While exploration is wonderful to a child’s development, it’s important to ensure they are safe while doing so. As influenza season begins in October, this is the perfect time of year to evaluate the entire family’s immunization status in preparation for a healthy winter.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of a toddler and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

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