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Why Immunizations Work
As you prepare your kids for another school year, don’t forget one of the most important factors in keeping your student in the classroom—immunizations.
We’re anticipating another year where whooping cough (pertussis) will be a problem and measles is actually making a comeback. These are two diseases we once thought to be all but eradicated. More than 18,000 Americans contracted whooping cough from January to July — twice the number as in the time period last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Why? Unfortunately, not all parents are getting their children vaccinated. Although few parents deny their children vaccines, there have been a growing number of parents in recent years who declined some or all immunizations. They cite religious grounds or now-debunked claims of a connection between vaccines and autism or other chronic diseases.
The fact is dozens of studies show that vaccines are safe and they're credited with saving millions of lives.
- Smallpox once killed nearly 1,000 children per year. It wasn't completely eradicated until 1977 thanks to the smallpox vaccine.
- Diphtheria cases in 1920 reached nearly 150,000 in the United States, claiming more than 13,000 lives. By 2002, only one case was reported nationwide.
- Pertussis (whooping cough) sickened more than 107,000 in 1922, with nearly 5,100 deaths. By 2002, only 9,771 cases were reported nationwide.
- Polio produced more than 16,000 cases of paralytic polio from 1951-54, leading to nearly 1,900 deaths. The wild-type virus form of paralytic polio was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1991, thanks to the vaccine.
- An average of 450 Americans died from measles each year between 1953 and1963. However, because of vaccines, measles cases have been reduced by more than 99 percent compared with the pre-vaccine era.
Vaccination is the best protection against 16 major diseases and among the best school preparation a parent can give a child. However, vaccines can only eliminate disease if almost everyone in a particular community gets them. People who can't be vaccinated—those with cancer, HIV or newborns too young to be fully immunized—must depend on what's called the "herd immunity" provided by those in the communities who are immunized. For those who oppose vaccines and live in the same community, their "herds" tend to be more open to infections taking hold.
Current law requires eighth graders to have the tetanus/pertussis vaccine before entering school, and exemptions for personal beliefs have become more difficult to obtain.
And while it’s easy to think of vaccines as an early childhood necessity, the truth is that immunization is just as important for older children and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following vaccinations for children between the ages of 11 and 19 if they haven’t received the full dosages:
- Meningococcal disease: Recommended for all teens ages 11 through 18 for protection against this devastating illness. It’s also recommended for all college freshmen living in dorms regardless of age.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): This series of three vaccines provides immunity against several types of the virus that cause cervical cancer.
- Pertussis (whooping cough) (Tdap, td): Children ages 11 or 12 need a Tdap booster at this time, and should have another booster every 10 years.
- Hepatitis B (Hep B)
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
- Varicella: If your child hasn’t had chickenpox and was never vaccinated, a two-dose vaccination is necessary. Teens who only received one dose of the vaccine as a child should get a second dose now, as well.
- Influenza: This vaccine is important for nearly all ages. Be certain not to get the flu shot too early, or too late as you could miss the benefits of the vaccine during the more critical times of the flu season. Try to get this shot between the middle of October and late November.
- Pneumococcal disease: Some adolescents with chronic health problems should receive this vaccine. Your pediatrician can guide you as to whether this is recommended for your child.
- Hepatitis A: Certain teens are at greater risk and could benefit from this two-dose vaccine.
Talk with your doctor or pediatrician about any concerns or questions about the risks and benefits of immunization. Vaccination is the best protection against many major diseases and is possibly the best school preparation a parent can give a child.