As students return to school in August, it’s important that all children are up-to-date on all of their vaccinations for vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, mumps and pertussis. What better time for parents to ensure that their children’s – and their own – immunizations are up to date, before children and germs gather in the classroom.
Vaccines are the most effective means of protecting children from potentially serious infectious diseases and stopping the spread of disease. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases once thought to be well controlled, including measles and pertussis (whooping cough), are still occurring in this country. Last winter’s multi-state outbreak of measles that began in a California amusement park sickened more than 170 people, most of whom were unvaccinated.
Outbreaks of pertussis have been affecting schools. More than 321 cases of this highly contagious disease were reported in 2014 in Georgia, which is an increase over 2011 where 180 cases were reported. Children with pertussis can develop a severe cough that lasts for weeks or even months. Infected children also can pass pertussis onto unvaccinated infant siblings, who face the greatest risk of serious illness and death.
In 2011, Georgia pertussis reporting showed:
* 48 counties reported pertussis cases.
* Most cases occurred in the Atlanta metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and in southern Georgia.
* Incidence was highest among infants <6 months, with the majority of cases in infants.
* 17 percent of reported cases were hospitalized.
* Pre-adolescents 7 to 10 years of age) report an increasing incidence of pertussis year-over-year.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations, pregnant women, family members, and caretakers also should be vaccinated to protect infants, especially those too young to get their own immunizations.
The flu season also follows fast on the heels of the new school year. The flu can be serious, and each year about 20,000 children younger than 5 years of age are hospitalized with flu complications. The best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a yearly flu vaccine, with rare exception. This is especially important for pregnant women who face a higher risk of flu complications for themselves and their babies, according to the CDC.
“A back-to-school check-up is an ideal time to make sure that your child’s immunizations are all up to date,” says Bea Files, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine. “The more children who are fully immunized, the less the risk of exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases, and the less risk of a regional or statewide outbreak occurring.”
The March of Dimes has a long history of supporting vaccines. The organization was founded in 1938 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, himself a polio survivor, to combat polio. At the time, polio was an epidemic disease that paralyzed or killed up to 52,000 Americans, mostly children, every year. The March of Dimes funded the development of the first safe and effective polio vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1955, followed by the oral vaccine developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in 1962. Nearly every baby born today receives a lifesaving polio vaccine.
The March of Dimes fully supports school immunization requirements and advocates against non-medical exemptions to vaccination. More information on childhood vaccines is available from the March of Dimes web site: http://www.marchofdimes.org/baby/your-babys-vaccinations.aspx.