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August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a time when state and local health officials are highlighting the health benefits of vaccination.
Kathleen Rocco, immunization outreach coordinator for the Connecticut Department of Public Health Immunization Program in the greater Danbury region, reached out to The Newtown Bee to help spread the word.
“We have come a long way since vaccines were created in an atmosphere of extreme urgency to combat devastating epidemics. Smallpox and polio, which spread rapidly and infected millions, were a mystery which challenged the scientific and medical community to respond quickly and effectively,” she said. “The vaccines created were an amazing achievement and are widely considered to be one of the greatest accomplishments of modern medicine.”
The field of Immunization has expanded so much since then. Most often there is no need to work furiously to create a vaccine in response to a deadly outbreak.
Now medical research, in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), works proactively to prevent such outbreaks before they can spread.
Today children can be protected from 14 serious diseases by the time they turn 2. And it’s not just young children who need vaccine protection. Every year thousands of Americans suffer serious health problems, are hospitalized, and even die from diseases that could have been prevented by vaccines.
The CDC urges people of all ages to make sure they are up to date on vaccines because vaccines are recommended throughout our lives.
For schoolchildren, August is a great time to make a back to school check-up appointment and make sure students are up to date on recommended vaccines. There is a new two-dose HPV vaccine for boys and girls 9-14 that can prevent cancer later in life.
Ms Rocco advises parents and caregivers to ask their doctor about it.
Anne Dalton, RN and nurse supervisor for the Newtown School District, refers parents to the Immunization Requirements for Enrolled Students in Connecticut Schools for 2017-2018.
Ms Rocco says pregnant moms need to be sure to ask their physician about getting vaccinated against flu and pertussis/whooping cough, both of which are a big threat to infants who cannot receive the vaccine themselves.
And for all adults, she says getting an annual flu shot is the best way to prevent a serious case of influenza. In addition, check with your doctor to see if there are any recommended vaccines to get like tetanus, pneumococcal, or shingles.
Many vaccine-preventable diseases are still common in other parts of the world.
Recently, unvaccinated travelers who were infected with measles while in other countries came to the United States and created an outbreak. Measles is highly contagious and is spread through the air by coughing or sneezing.
“Remember, immunization can save lives, but it is a shared responsibility; we must all work together to protect our community,” Ms Rocco said.
Dr Thomas Draper, a veteran Newtown pediatrician and Newtown Health District’s medical adviser, worked through the years of mass immunization of children in area schools for polio and measles.
He said there is a legitimate concern that the increase in the number of parents exempting their children could open the door for outbreaks of other currently controlled diseases.
Dr Draper is echoing his sentiment from two years ago when the number of measles cases was on the rise: “People and parents of young children need to be informed. Today things like measles, polio, and smallpox have been virtually eliminated to the extent that they have virtually disappeared in the historical minds of Americans. They are either unaware or have forgotten about the hundreds and hundreds of people who have died from these and other [preventable]) illnesses as recently as a decade or two ago.”
Health District Director Donna Culbert also believes parents and caregivers of children in town and throughout her district should spend time in August raising awareness about the important role vaccines play in preventing serious, sometimes deadly, diseases.
When thinking about the benefits of vaccination, Ms Culbert reminds residents that:
*Vaccines protect against serious diseases
*These diseases still exist and outbreaks do occur
*Vaccines are recommended throughout our lives
*Vaccines are very safe
Ms Culbert said an excellent source of information regarding immunizations is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page: cdc.gov/vaccines/index.html
“But the best guidance for a person’s particular vaccination recommendations will come from their health care provider,” she said.
Uninsured or underinsured Newtown residents may also contact Kevin’s Community Center clinic for assistance at 25 Commerce Road Wednesdays between noon and 4 pm, or by calling 203-426-0496.