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National Infant Immunization Week

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

This week, April 26 – May 2, is National Infant Immunization Week. I cannot think of a more appropriate time to discuss the importance of vaccinating newborns (and all children), while we are in the midst of a possible public health pandemic for which no vaccine is available. Vaccines have been one of the greatest public health achievements of the last decade. Vaccines have prevented countless deaths and morbidity from diseases that parents used to worry about their children catching. Polio in the 50’s, measles, mumps and rubella that accounted for not only disease in children but congenital birth defects in children who had been exposed to rubella in utero. After that came advancements in the prevention of meningitis (from several different bacteria) that not only caused death but complications of deafness and developmental delay in those children who were fortunately saved.

If you are a young parent, you have no memory of these diseases, as you too had been vaccinated by your parents, who at that time were anxious to vaccinate their children to prevent these dreaded diseases. You don’t remember children in iron lungs or leg braces, or houses with signs reading “quarantined” when an entire family developed measles, or those phone calls in the middle of the night with an infant with fever, a stiff neck and meningitis. The memories are distant, but in reality all too close, as these diseases have not been eradicated. They still cause disease in many countries and are only a plane ride away from re-entering the United States. We are a very mobile society and exposures to these diseases may happen at any time.

We saw this phenomena this last year with measles, which was brought into this country by a child who had not been immunized, after vacationing in Switzerland. We have seen mumps outbreaks again brought in from Europe when a child came to the U.S. for camp. We are currently seeing several cases of H. Flu meningitis and death in young children who had not been immunized to these diseases due to parental concerns with vaccines.

There have been numerous studies done and reported in medical journals worldwide that show no link between vaccines and autism. And that same science shows that we must keep up high immunization rates to ensure that the “herd” (the entire population) stays healthy. Children who are not vaccinated have been fortunate to benefit from herd immunity; in other words, they are at less risk because most children and adults are immunized. But if the herd gets smaller and those not vaccinated becomes larger, the tides may turn and these diseases may “rear their angry heads” and cause outbreaks again.

Begin your child’s immunizations on schedule at their two, four and six month visits. Go to the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site and read and listen to sound advice on vaccines.

Your best protection against disease is vaccination. That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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