By Teresa Foo, MD, MPH
Divisions of Immunization and Acute Disease Epidemiology
August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). Immunizations represent one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century. The purpose of NIAM is to celebrate the benefits of vaccination and highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages.
Vaccines prevent diseases and keep us healthy.
The need for vaccination does not end in childhood. Vaccines are actually recommended throughout our lives. Did you know that every year, tens of thousands of adults in the United States suffer serious health problems, are hospitalized, or even die from diseases that could have been prevented by vaccination?
Here are four important things to remember not only during National Immunization Awareness Month, but throughout the year.
- Vaccines protect against serious diseases. Immunizations not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
- These diseases still exist and outbreaks do occur. Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles still circulate in the United States and around the world, so continued vaccination is necessary to protect everyone from potential outbreaks. It’s easy for a disease to spread when it reaches communities where groups of people are unvaccinated.
- Vaccines are recommended for people of all ages. Vaccines are recommended throughout our lives based on age, lifestyle, occupation, travel locations, medical conditions and previous vaccination history.
- Babies receive vaccinations that help protect them from 14 diseases by age 2. It is very important that babies receive all doses of each vaccine, as well as receive each vaccination on time. After age 2, children are still recommended to receive a yearly flu vaccine. Children will also be due for additional doses of some vaccines between 4 and 6 years of age. Following the recommended immunization schedule is one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children’s health.
- Vaccines are also needed for children as they grow to be preteens, teens and young adults. Childcare facilities, preschool programs, schools and colleges are prone to outbreaks of infectious diseases. When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk for disease and can spread disease to others in their play groups, childcare centers, classrooms and communities – including babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer and other health conditions.
- Preteens and teens need four vaccines to protect against serious diseases:
- quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine to protect against meningitis and blood infections (septicemia);
- HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV;
- Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis); and
- a yearly flu vaccine to protect against seasonal flu.
- Adults need vaccines too. Even healthy adults can become seriously ill, and can pass certain illnesses on to others. Certain vaccines are recommended based on a person’s age, occupation or health conditions.
- All adults, including pregnant women, should get the influenza (flu) vaccine each year. Every adult should have one dose of Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis or whooping cough) if they did not get Tdap as a teen, and then get the Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster vaccine every 10 years. In addition, pregnant women are recommended to get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27-36 weeks.
- Vaccines are very safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Data shows that the current U.S. vaccine supply is the safest in history.” Get more information on vaccine safety at gov/vaccinesafety. The United States has a long-standing vaccine safety program that closely monitors the safety of vaccines. Scientists conduct various studies to ensure vaccine safety.
Remember, immunization isn’t just for children, it’s for all of us. Talk to your doctor or other health care provider about what vaccines you or your child need.