Itís August, which means summer is quickly coming to a close and New Yorkers are busy trying to fit all they can into the final weeks of this fleeting season. With so much to do, keeping up with routine vaccinations can easily be put on the back burner. Thatís why August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a time to remind people about the benefits of vaccines and encourage you and your loved ones to remain up to date on immunizations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies immunization as one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century, having eradicated smallpox, eliminated wild poliovirus (polio) in the U.S. and significantly reduced the number of cases of measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis and other diseases. Immunization is a life-saving precaution that should be practiced from infancy to old age. The recent wave of the H1N1 virus has made it clear that now, more than ever, we need to ensure people are up to date and educated on vaccinations. While currently there is no vaccine for H1N1, clinical trials of a vaccine are underway and may be ready for the public as early as this fall. Itís important that parents begin the immunization process early by ensuring their children receive routine childhood vaccinations. Millions of cases of disease and thousands of deaths in children are prevented each year through immunization. These are promising statistics, but parents must be vigilant. There are currently vaccines to protect children against 14 diseases before age 2, yet more than 20 percent of the nationís 2-year-olds are not fully immunized against infectious diseases2. With so many preventive tools, itís senseless for a child to succumb to a vaccine-preventable disease.
Weíve made great strides when it comes to affordable health care in order to ensure that our children receive necessary disease prevention. Many basic immunizations are covered under Child Health Plus, in addition to opportunities like the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides free vaccines for children 18 years and under. These programs offer parents a convenient, low-cost way to ensure their child receives basic immunizations.
As fall approaches and students are getting ready to head off to school, itís important to remember that in New York State, all students attending K-12 or college are required to be immunized against poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, rubella, hepatitis B, diphtheria, and varicella (chickenpox). Itís also recommended that all first-year students planning to live in dormitories be immunized against meningitis, a rare but deadly contagious disease that affects college students as a result of crowded living environments.
Though vaccinations early in life are critical to a childís healthy development, the immunization process should be continued throughout adolescence and into adulthood to reduce the risk of catching certain diseases, like human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV vaccine prevents the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. It is routinely recommended for girls 11 and 12 years of age and also recommended for girls and women 13 through 26 years of age who did not receive it when they were younger3.
As we get older, we often incorrectly assume that vaccinations we received during childhood mean we are no longer at risk. However, immunity can begin to fade over time, and as we age we become more susceptible to serious diseases caused by common infections like the flu, so itís important to stay up-to-date on any current vaccinations recommended for adults. The CDC recommends that people age 65 and older get vaccinated against influenza each year. This age group is most vulnerable and at the highest risk for complications, hospitalizations, and deaths from influenza.
In addition, if you are planning on traveling to a foreign country, itís important to remember that several infectious diseases such as typhoid fever and yellow fever are only a plane ride away. You may need additional vaccines if you are planning on a destination where diseases exist that are not common in the U.S.
I encourage you to observe National Immunization Awareness Month by making sure you and your loved ones are up to date on all necessary vaccinations. For more information about the VFC Program and other important vaccination information, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines or call 1-800-CDC-info (232-4636). To learn more about the benefits of Child Health Plus, visit www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/chplus/index.htm or call 1-800-698-4KIDS and ask about Child Health Plus.