There is a tool that can save your child’s life. It’s free under the Affordable Care Act and takes less than five minutes. This tool is immunizations, and the WHO World Immunization Week is a great time to make sure your child (and the children around you) are up-to-date on their vaccinations.
WHO World Immunization Week 2016
The theme for WHO World Immunization Week in 2016 is part of an initiative that began last year. “Close the immunization gap” is a call for identifying those areas of the world that are still seeing low rates of immunization and mobilizing services to meet that need.
This multi-year initiative has two different points of focus that are aimed at increasing the number of people receiving immunizations worldwide – education and removing barriers to immunization.
A crucial part of immunization remains educating families about the benefits of vaccination. It seems straightforward that a simple immunization can protect people from deadly or serious disease, including:
- Chickenpox (Varicella): Var, MMRV
- Diphtheria: DTaP, Td, Tdap
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib): Hib
- Hepatitis: Hep A, Hep B
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: HPV4
- Influenza: TIV, LAIV
- Measles (Rubeola): MMR, MMRV
- Meningococcal: MCV, MPSV
- Mumps: MMR, MMRV
- Pertussis (Whooping Cough): DTaP, DTP, Tdap
- Pneumococcal: PCV, PPSV
- Polio: IPV
- Rotavirus: RV1, RV5
- Rubella (German Measles): MMR, MMRV
- Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Zos
- Tetanus (Lockjaw): DT, DTaP, Td, Tdap
Most public schools in the U.S. require up-to-date immunizations for admittance, but beyond that, vaccinations protect the most vulnerable among us. People with cancer and other conditions that weaken the immune system are more susceptible to the most serious of the above diseases. Immunizations offer “herd immunity” to those people who cannot be vaccinated due to other health conditions. Also known as “community immunity,” this occurs when a certain percentage of a population is immunized against a disease, thus reducing the chances of an outbreak among the entire group.
For some, even the idea of protecting everyone is not enough to override recent press regarding the safety of immunizations. Recently there have been high-profile people insisting that there is a link between immunizations and autism. Initially this was backed by a study that made the connection, but that study has since been debunked by its author.
While it is easy to dismiss the people raising these concerns, it is important to remember that every parent is motivated by what they believe is best for their children. That said, vaccinations are safer than they have ever been, undergoing rigorous testing prior to introducing them to the population. There are side effects from immunizations, but they are generally mild, with severe reactions being much more rare.
Removing barriers to immunization
Barriers to immunization include, most prominently, education and access. The WHO World Immunization Week campaign aims to completely eradicate polio and other preventable disease by offering new and improved vaccines and making them widely available in poor or underserved communities. The Affordable Care Act has aided this initiative substantially by making vaccinations a routine part of the free annual check-up in the U.S.
In other areas of the world, progress has been slow or stalled, in many cases due to lack of medical professionals. Conflict and political strife have also caused delays in implementing new vaccines, as has inadequate supply of vaccinations and financial support.
Immunizations are a crucial part of childhood, as important as strapping your baby in a car seat every time you drive. If you are still concerned or have questions, here’s what to do.
Talk to your doctor
Your doctor should have the most up-to-date research on immunizations and can help you understand the benefits (and risks) of immunizations. Some school systems will not allow students to enroll at all without immunizations, so it’s important to begin this conversation early on.
Ask about splitting immunizations
Many of the newest vaccines are combined into one shot. For those who are worried about side effects due to this combination, it is often possible to separate vaccines. For example, a measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine can be split into three separate shots. While this requires additional trips to the doctor, if you are worried about side effects from combined shots, ask your doctor about this as an option.
Do some research
In a world filled with soundbites and unqualified famous people offering their opinion, it can be easy to be taken in by what you see on TV. Don’t be. Look to sites like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization to offer research-based information on vaccines, vaccine schedules, and potential side effects. There is plenty of information on immunizations that is not based in research. While it is a tragedy when a person suffers from a severe or fatal reaction to a vaccination, the chances of this happening are very low. If this is your main concern, some research can help set your mind at ease.
Don’t forget teens and adults
We often think of young children getting vaccinated, but teens and adults are also in need of vaccinations. Teens now have the option of an HPV vaccination that can protect against cervical cancer, and adults need a tetanus shot every ten years.
Additionally, many adults born before 1980 are vulnerable to shingles as they age. Although there was a chickenpox vaccination available, many who grew up prior to 1980 did not receive it. They may have contracted chickenpox before they could get vaccinated, or their parents may have chosen not to vaccinate. Regardless, the chickenpox virus is the same virus that causes shingles, a blisteringly painful condition that can be debilitating. The shingles vaccine helps prevent this virus.
Other doctors may recommend a measles, mumps, and rubella booster for adults over the age of 40. Consider immunizations an important part of healthcare throughout your life.
WHO World Immunization Week 2016 is the last week in April. This is a good opportunity to talk to your doctor to see if your family is up-to-date on their shots!