New school year is time for immunization

The new school year is here, and it is time to make sure your school-aged child and everyone in your household is up-to-date on routine immunizations.

Lately, we have been hearing about increases in childhood illnesses that many of us had nearly forgotten about in the United States — particularly pertussis (whooping cough) and measles.

Vaccines have been so effective at protecting us that often only our grandparents or great grandparents vividly remember losing friends and family to these infections and many others, such as polio, tetanus and diphtheria.

It is hard to imagine now, but before the measles vaccine arrived on the scene, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. Each year in the United States, about 450 to 500 people died because of measles, 48,000 were hospitalized, 7,000 had seizures, and about 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage or deafness.

Even today, worldwide, there are estimated to be 20 million cases and 197,000 deaths caused by measles each year.

Similarly, because most of us have never known anyone with pertussis, we forget just how serious an illness it can be. In 1922, prior to the development of the vaccine, there were more than 5,100 deaths from pertussis in this country alone.

Nationally, and here in the U.P., we have seen a resurgence of this disease in recent years.

In addition, everyone at and over 6 months of age is recommended to receive a yearly flu shot to protect them from seasonal flu. Those at highest risk from flu include very young children, senior citizens, pregnant women and individuals with certain chronic health conditions.

It’s also important to remember that adults need to be up-to-date on their immunizations in order to protect themselves and the young children in their home. This is particularly true for pertussis, since older children and adults may be the main source of exposure for infants too young to be fully immunized.

In general, adults need only one booster dose of pertussis vaccine (Tdap), after their childhood series. The exception is for pregnant women who are recommended to get a booster dose with each pregnancy in order to protect their newborn.

If you have concerns about vaccine safety, please don’t let misinformation guide your decision to vaccinate. The internet and social media have enabled parents to search for answers, but it is often very difficult to sort out good information from bad. The spread of misinformation is one reason why Michigan has some of the lowest immunization rates in the country.

Get credible information from reputable sources such as www.michigan.gov/immunize and www.cdc.gov/vaccines and talk to your healthcare provider or contact your local health department. If children are unvaccinated, the entire population becomes more vulnerable, as illnesses that we thought were history start circulating anew.

COMMENTS