A look at the importance of immunizations
August is designated as National Immunization Awareness Month. It’s designed to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages, from infants to seniors, and to raise awareness about the important role vaccines play in preventing serious and sometimes-deadly diseases.
While I know some in this valley oppose immunization, as a public health professional, I believe immunization is a shared responsibility. We all need to be current on our immunizations to help protect our entire community.
Vaccines protect against serious diseases, and they are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease and death.
John Lawrence, PA is Mountain Family Health Center’s medical provider at their Avon School-Based Health Center. He says, “Vaccines create immunity to certain diseases by using small amounts of a killed or weakened microorganism that causes the particular disease. Microorganisms can be viruses, like the measles virus, or they can be bacteria, like pneumococcus. Vaccines stimulate the immune system to react as if there was a real infection. The immune system fights off the ‘infection’ and remembers the organism so that it can fight the virus or bacteria quickly should it ever enter the body again.”
Vaccination is important because it not only protects the person receiving the vaccine, it also helps prevent the spread of certain diseases, especially to those who are most vulnerable to serious complications, such as infants and young children, the elderly and those with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems.
According to the National Public Health Information Coalition, vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born from 1994-2013.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage early vaccination for 14 vaccine-preventable diseases. These include: bacterial meningitis, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, influenza (flu), rubeola (red measles), mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumococcal disease, polio, rubella (German measles), tetanus (lockjaw), rotavirus, varicella (chickenpox) and human papillomavirus (HPV).
In the United States, vaccines have greatly reduced infectious diseases which once routinely killed or harmed many infants, children and adults. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable disease and death still exist and can be passed on to people who are not protected by vaccines.
For example, measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but there are still outbreaks in this country. This is primarily due to a non-vaccinated person being exposed to the disease during travel to other countries and bringing the virus home. People with whom they come in contact who aren’t immunized either may then contract the disease as well. Whooping cough is another example of a preventable disease which is making a comeback in the United States.
Vaccines are very safe, as they are thoroughly tested before licensing and carefully monitored even after they are licensed. Side effects from vaccines are usually mild and temporary. Some people may have allergic reactions to certain vaccines, but serious and long-term side effects are rare.
Getting vaccinated according to the recommended immunization schedule is one of the most important things a parent can do to protect their child’s health. Visit the CDC website to see the schedules for your children at each age (in English and Spanish), or download the CDC immunization app. Vaccines are not just for children though; they are recommended throughout our lives, based on our age, lifestyle, occupation, travel destinations, medical conditions and vaccines received in the past.
John Lawrence from Mountain Family says back-to-school health exams are a great time to talk to your health-care provider to make sure your family is up to date on the recommended immunizations. Several vaccines require boosters to maintain immunity, and some of these are given again upon entry into kindergarten, and when a child is 11 to 12 years old. Students going to college should receive the bacterial meningitis vaccine.
Low- or no-cost vaccines are available at Mountain Family Health Centers, or public health departments in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties. If you do not have a primary care provider, Mountain Family provides affordable medical, behavioral and dental health care, and accepts public and private and offers a sliding fee scale discount based on household income.
Here’s to a healthy future for us all.
Carolyn Hardin is a development consultant for Mountain Family and other nonprofits, with 30 years of experience in public health and human services in the Roaring Fork Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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