Written by Carolyn Maschke
Southwest Health District’s 14 county health departments are joining with counterparts across the globe this month to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases.
National Infant Immunization Week is an annual observance that since 1994 has served as a call to action for parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers to ensure that infants are fully immunized against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases, said Southwest District Health Immunization Coordinator Sue Dale.
“This year, NIIW is April 21-28,” Dale said. “It will be celebrated this year simultaneously with the first global immunization observance – World Immunization Week – an initiative of the World Health Organization.”
Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease and death. “They not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases,” Dale said.
The diseases are still in circulation, but since they are rare in the United States, sometimes people tend to forget that, Dale said. “What we need to remember is that diseases are only a plane ride away, and once they are in this country, they put unvaccinated children at risk.”
One example of the seriousness of vaccine-preventable diseases was the California whooping cough epidemic of 2010, resulting in the death of 10 infants. Nationally, more than 21,000 cases of the whooping cough were reported in 2010. Cases of whooping cough have also recently occurred in Southwest Health District, Dale said.
She pointed out immunizations can save families time and money as well as pain and suffering. “A child with a vaccine-preventable disease can be denied attendance at schools or childcare facilities,” Dale said. “Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities and can take a financial toll because of lost time at work, medical bills or long-term disability.”
In contrast, getting vaccinated against the 14 vaccine-preventable childhood diseases is a good investment and is usually covered by insurance, she said. “The Vaccines for Children program is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children from lower-income families.”
To find out more about the VFC program or about immunizations against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, contact your county health department or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.