Immunize On Time, Every Time
04/14/2015 08:38AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier
Gallery: Immunize On Time, Every Time [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
All parents of infants and toddlers discuss feeding and sleep schedules, the proper way to install a car seat and when to up-grade to a new model. These are matters that concern the health, safety, and well being of their children. Likewise, these discussions should include immunizations and whether their children are on schedule for receiving them.
According to the United States Center for Disease Control, the week of April 18 – 25 has been designated National Infant Immunization Week. This week, held now for 20 years, is an observance designed to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine- preventable diseases. The observance also celebrates the achievements made by the immunization programs that have succeeded in making our communities healthier.
When the week was first established, there was a drop in the number of infants and toddlers immunized and an increase in measles. NIIW brought the focus on solutions to these problems and raised parental awareness of the importance of vaccines in preventing such diseases.
The CDC reports, “Among children born during 1994-2013, vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes.”
Even with these astounding statistics and the truth that vaccine preventable diseases are rare in the United States, we must face the fact that as of October 31, 2014, 603 people from 22 states were reported as having measles. This is the largest number of cases in the U. S. since measles was eliminated in 2000, the CDC reports.
Dr. Maurice Faugot, pediatrician with Iberia Pediatrics, has been in practice for 34 years. He says, “In my early career I saw many cases of terrible infections and children dying from diseases that we now rarely see because of new vaccines.” He adds that if parents take advantage of the availability of these vaccines, by the time a child starts first grade, he can be immunized against 14 diseases.
At the time when these childhood diseases were prevalent, the public was well aware of how dangerous they could be, and many prayed for a vaccine that would eradicate them. Today, parents of infants and toddlers don’t realize the danger. They have not seen the pictures of children in iron lungs or those with braces on their legs. Dr. Stephanie Aldret, family and sports medicine physician with Regional Medical Center of Acadiana, points out, “Parents should fear the diseases that we vaccinate against. Measles is a highly contagious virus that can survive on surfaces for hours. Mumps can cause sterility. Polio is crippling. Measles, pertussis, rubella and polio can be deadly.”
Pertussis (whooping cough) can be deadly if contracted by a newborn. Dr. Aldret recommends that anyone who will be in contact with a newborn receive a pertussis shot if the baby is not up to date on booster shots. She explained that immunity from certain vaccines could wear off after a certain amount of time. Booster shots are recommended, and pertussis boosters are in the majority of tetanus boosters we receive every 5-10 years, she says.
Dr. Faugot explains that parents began to object to giving their infants and toddlers childhood immunization when a 1998 British study was published. He says, “The study alleged that there was a link between the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine and autism. Years later, the study was found to be ethically flawed and wrong in its conclusion, but by then the concern over the safety of vaccines had become a major issue. Subsequent studies are unable to verify the alleged findings noted in the original report.”
Once a rumor starts, it is difficult to stop it with facts, statistics and research. It is easier to listen to sensationalism than to study and search for the truth. According to Dr. Faugot, “I, along with many physicians, was extremely concerned about the British study, and I still have a healthy skepticism about vaccine manufacturers and the studies they promote.”
Whereas the Internet can be a wonderful source of good information, it can also be a source of undocumented information and personal articles that are not backed up by scientific research. Though well intentioned, parents may do their own research on vaccine safety without looking for documentation. Dr. Aldret says, “Parents should make sure that the information they are taking as truth is coming from credible researched sources (i.e., their physicians and articles from peer reviewed and evidence based journals).”
Dr. Tim Viator, a family medicine physician at Iberia Medical Center, affirms Dr. Aldret’s caution about the Internet. He says, “I wouldn’t advise parents to believe everything they read on the Internet about how dangerous vaccines are to our kids. They do rarely cause side effects; however, they save a great number of lives and prevent unneeded suffering.”
The typical side effects a parent can expect from a vaccination depend on the type of vaccine, according to Dr. Faugot. “The vast majority of children have no side effect or minimal short lived reactions such as some fever, sore injection sites, or fussiness,” he says.
Although there may be such risks and side effects, weighing the benefits of immunization against major diseases is important. The benefits outweigh the risks. Dr. Faugot says, “The evidence is clear that it is much better to immunize than not to immunize. There is a very vocal group of individuals that would disagree, but looking objectively at the research shows immunizations to be very safe overall.”
In order to help parents understand benefits versus risks, Dr. Faugot offers this analogy. “Some people might question the safety of wearing seat belts because reports showed that they are dangerous to individuals who crash their car into a lake. These people fail to note the overwhelming evidence reveals the benefits of wearing seat belts in the majority of crashes. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks.”
Dependent infants rely on their parents to feed them and care for them. They rely on their parents to keep them safe, and part of that parental responsibility includes having them vaccinated on time. If parents are taking their children to a physician for well baby visits, they can inquire about the vaccination schedule.
Dr. Faugot points out, “Most vaccines have a certain age that the child must be in order to get the vaccine. Some vaccines require a series of doses in order to build adequate immunity, and there are time period requirements for those booster doses.”
When parents choose not to vaccinate or to follow a delayed schedule, children are left unprotected against diseases still circulating in this country, like measles, as was recently seen in the Disneyland cases, as well as whooping cough. The CDC reports that in the year 2012, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough were reported in the United States. During this time, 20 deaths were reported, the majority in children younger than 3 months of age.
Public health and medical experts have studied information about diseases and vaccines very carefully to decide which vaccines children should get and when they should get them for best protection.
Some parents are leery when they see the immunization schedule and realize that their infant or toddler will be receiving multiple vaccines at once. The American Academy of Pediatrics reassures parents that vaccines given at one time will not overwhelm their baby’s immune system. According to the Academy, “Babies’ bodies fight off germs every day. Their immune systems are ready and waiting to keep them healthy. Vaccinations are a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of germs they fight off every day, usually 2,000 to 6,000. Children’s immune systems are not overwhelmed by vaccines.”
The vaccinations start almost immediately in the infant’s life. The Hepatitis B vaccine is essential in certain instances, according to Dr. Faugot. He says that the birth mother may be a carrier of the virus, in which case it can easily be transmitted to the baby. “In an effort to minimize the risk of babies contracting the virus it is recommended that all newborns receive the vaccine shortly after birth. There are some who believe that babies born to healthy mothers and going home to a healthy household are at low risk and therefore some want to delay the vaccine for several weeks. That was the policy in the past,” he explains.
In the state of Louisiana, the Department of Health and Hospitals provides valuable information and services to the public. Ashley C. Lewis, Press Officer/Bureau of Media and Communications for the department, says that the state’s current immunization rate is 88.1%. She refers the public to the department’s web site, dhh.louisiana.gov for details concerning the state’s immunization program.
According to Lewis, “The Immunization Program within the DHH Office of Public Health administers the Vaccines for Children Program, through which public, purchased vaccines are available at no charge to enrolled public and private health care providers for eligible children.”
Children can receive vaccines at a federally qualified health center, a rural health clinic, or parish health unit. Those who qualify for free immunizations are those up to 18 who are Medicaid eligible, uninsured, or American Indian or Alaskan Native, as defined by the Indian Health Services Act, according to the department web site.
Lewis says that the public might also be interested in the Shots for Tots program. She explains, “This is a network of public and private entities working cooperatively to further educate and update parents and providers to achieve the highest level of immunizations for Louisiana’s most valuable assets, its children.”
Louisiana is now providing MyIR.net, which, Lewis says, is a web-based application. It allows registered users to view, print and store copies of immunization records for which access has been approved by a participating health care provider. MyIR.net is sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Immunization Program, and also provides educational information and links to personal and public health information.
The department’s web site provides the public with information concerning what immunizations Louisiana law requires a child must have in order to attend day care, pre-K, kindergarten, Head Start programs and to enter 6th grade.
It is easy to think that having your child immunized is so easy that childhood diseases are things from the past. But, according to the CDC, the truth is they still exist. Children in the United States can –and do – still get some of these diseases. For example, data from 2014 show a higher than normal number of measles cases nationally and in individual states.
That is why we have a National Infant Immunization Week, followed in May with Toddler Immunization Month. We don’t have to repeat history. Our children don’t have to suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases. It’s important to immunize, on time, every time.
Dr. Tim Viator says, “We can’t protect our kids from everything, but we can protect them from measles, polio, hepatitis A and B, and other diseases. Let’s not allow one of these to take the lives of our grandchildren or great-grandchildren because of a decision we make today.”