Every year, thousands suffer from diseases that could've been prevented. That’s according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which marks August as National Immunization Awareness Month.
Immunizations are among the most effective medical interventions of all time. Short of basic sanitation and nutrition, no health intervention has done more to save lives and prevent disease than immunizations.
Before the advent of vaccines, diphtheria claimed more than 10,000 children’s lives annually in the 1920s in the United States, polio paralyzed and killed thousands of children in the 1940s and the 1950s, and measles affected nearly a half-million U.S. children every year at one point.
Fast forward to today, many have never seen certain diseases. Smallpox was eradicated from the world in 1977. In 1991, polio was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere. The list of serious diseases eradicated or whose numbers have been reduced dramatically by immunizations includes mumps, measles, rubella and tetanus.
"Yes, they're safe."
Mercy’s Dr. Laura E. Waters, who specializes in pediatrics, says if you remember one thing about immunizations, it’s that they’re safe.
“That’s the biggest worry among patients and parents, but there has been a lot of research around how we administer them and their schedules,” Dr. Waters said. “In fact, the Institutes of Medicine recently concluded the CDC’s vaccinations and recommended schedules [see above] aren’t harmful. Plus, there have been no proven studies showing vaccines and autism are linked.”
Vaccination can protect children from more than a dozen serious diseases, such as influenza, measles and whooping cough. Pregnancy is a time to start focusing on your child’s immunity; expectant mothers should get a flu shot every year, as well as the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) during every pregnancy to ward off whooping cough.
“Children over the age of 6 months are recommended to get a yearly flu shot," Dr. Waters added. "Those over the age of 2 can receive the injection or the nasal mist depending on risk factors or age,” Dr. Waters added. “Children ages 4 to 6 are due for boosters for four vaccines: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), chickenpox, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and polio. Unfortunately, vaccines that are given during the adolescence period (ages 11-12) are often forgotten. Those are the Tdap, MenACWY (meningococcal conjugate vaccine) and HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccines.” The meningitis booster is given at age 16-18.
Hepatitis A vaccines are now standard, and recommended for all children older than 1. “We usually administer that during the adolescent period, if they haven’t had it in childhood,” Dr. Waters added. “There are two doses, six months apart.”
Preteens and teens are also at risk for diseases. “Those groups have a better immune response than if you start later in life, so it’s a critical time,” Dr. Waters explained. As school gets back in session, it’s important that your kids’ vaccines are up to date. “Mercy gives patients the ability to use the MyMercy account to look up those vaccines. Print that off and check them off your list.”
Dr. Waters says young adults should get the Tdap vaccine once, if they didn’t get it as an adolescent. They’ll then need a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster every 10 years, as well as the HPV vaccine if they haven’t already. “The goal is to get that started before becoming sexually active. The HPV vaccine is very effective against cervical cancer among females, as well as genital warts and throat cancers in both sexes.” Young women and men who have not started or finished the HPV vaccine series may be vaccinated through age 26.
According to the CDC, immunization is especially important for adults 60 years of age and older, and for those who have a chronic condition such as asthma, COPD, diabetes or heart disease. Immunization is also important for anyone who is in close contact with the very young, the very old, people with weakened immune systems, and those who cannot be vaccinated. The need for other adult vaccines – such as shingles, pneumococcal, hepatitis, HPV – depends on age, occupation, travel, health status and other risk factors.
“If everyone around you is protected against a particular disease, which is one of the things we focus a lot on at Mercy by having co-workers immunized, we can become immune as a country. That’s how we eliminated smallpox.”
To learn more about National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), click here.