August is National Immunization Awareness Month. As backpacks, lunchboxes, and 64-packs of crayons hit the shelves in time for back-to-school shopping, the Centers for Disease Control wants parents and families to understand the importance of vaccinations.
The goal of National Immunization Awareness Month is to debunk myths surrounding vaccinations and to encourage people of all ages to talk to their doctors about protecting their health across their entire life. The Immunization Awareness Toolkits are designed by the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) for different stages of life, outlining each stages’ different needs.
The categories are:
- Babies and pregnant women
- Children, pre-teens, and teens
- Young adults
Each stage of life has specific considerations and concerns for protections.
Here are eleven things you need to know about immunizations.
1. First: there is no proven link between autism and vaccinations
This is an important point to address because it has been thoroughly publicized and debunked in the past five years. The initial study indicating a link has been retracted by the author and dismissed by the scientific community as fraudulent, flawed, and inaccurate in every way. Autism is a serious and lifelong condition, and parents who read the initial study were understandably concerned. Research has proven that the link does not exist.
2. The CDC recommends vaccinating children against 16 different preventable diseases
These diseases include the following:
- MMR: Measles, mumps, rubella (German measles)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Hepatitis B
- DipTet: Diphtheria, tetanus
- Pertussis (whooping cough)
- Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib)
- Influenza (flu)
- Pneumococcal disease
- HPV: Human papilloma virus, as known as the “cancer vaccine”
3. Vaccinations can be broken up
Another concern raised by parents is that they don’t want three or five different vaccinations at the same time. These vaccinations can be broken up into individual shots administered individually. The CDC does recommend that combination vaccinations be given together, noting that there is no evidence that they carry more adverse risk when administered in one shot.
4. Herd immunity: not just for cows
When a high percentage of the population is vaccinated against transmittable diseases, this increases the immunity of the entire population, especially for those who are not able to get vaccinated due to other health conditions. This protects especially vulnerable members of the community as well.
5. Immunization is the law in all 50 states
Every state in the U.S. has vaccination requirements for admission into kindergarten and many daycare facilities. While there are possible exemptions to these laws, many states are making those exemptions more difficult to achieve.
6. Immunizations have eradicated many diseases
Vaccinations have virtually eliminated 13 serious diseases in the U.S., including diphtheria, polio, and the measles. This is due to awareness-raising campaigns such as those run during National Immunization Awareness Month and scientific research and support from a number of organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the CDC, and even the EPA.
7. But some are returning
Measles and whooping cough are making a comeback due to “anti-vaxxers,” those parents who vaccinate selectively or choose not to vaccinate at all. There were 19 confirmed cases of measles in New York in 2014, a number which is small but has the potential to grow exponentially if herd immunity is not maintained, especially in densely populated cities.
8. Reactions are usually mild
As with all medical treatment, there is a risk of side effects. Although reactions can vary from vaccination to vaccination, in the majority of the time, most side effects are mild and usually resolve within a day or two.
9. The chances of having a serious reaction to an immunization are one in 1,000,000
Compare that to:
- The chances of getting struck by lightning: one in 700,000
- The chances of getting hit by a car crossing the street: one in 4,292
- The chances of being injured in a bathroom: 96 in 100,000
So while adverse reactions due to vaccinations do occur, the benefits far outweigh the potential for serious side effects.
10. Getting immunized as a child protects you as an adult
A good example of this is the link between chickenpox and shingles. The virus that causes chickenpox is the same virus that causes shingles, a painful condition that can occur in adults as young as the mid-30s. The chickenpox vaccination administered in childhood can offer protection against shingles in adulthood.
11. National Immunization Awareness Month is not just about kids
Vaccinations are usually discussed in terms of children, but they aren’t just for kids. Adults at risk should have an annual flu shot, and adults over 60 should talk to their doctor about the shingles vaccine, especially if they have had chickenpox. Tetanus shots should be administered once every ten years.
Even with the benefits of vaccinations clearly outlined, some parents will choose not to vaccinate their children. They may not want to hear them cry, or they may feel like the risk outweighs a benefit that they cannot see. Consequences for not vaccinating children go far beyond the health threats to the child.
- An unvaccinated child is a risk to those around them: A healthy child may bounce back quickly from a case of the measles or the flu, but these diseases can be deadly to someone with a compromised immune system, such as an elderly relative or a person undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
- An unvaccinated child will always be at risk: Due to herd immunity, an unvaccinated child may be able to grow up without contracting any diseases, but as they move into adulthood and begin to travel more widely, their risk increases.
- An unvaccinated child is at risk for quarantine: If an unvaccinated child contracts a transmittable disease, they may need to be isolated from everyone around them, including friends and family members. For young children this can be a traumatic experience.
For National Immunization Awareness Month, take a moment to read about vaccinations and consider your family’s health. Are you and your family up-to-date on your vaccinations?
Image courtesy of the National Public Health Information Coalition