Local view: Vaccines are safe and save livesThis week (April 20-27), we celebrate National Infant Immunization Week. Thousands of infants and children die each year, mostly in impoverished Third World countries, of vaccine-preventable diseases. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have life-saving vaccines available for infants and children.
By: Dr. Linda Van Etta, for the News Tribune
This week (April 20-27), we celebrate National Infant Immunization Week.
Thousands of infants and children die each year, mostly in impoverished Third World countries, of vaccine-preventable diseases. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have life-saving vaccines available for infants and children.
Because we have been vaccinating children in the United States for the past 40 to 50 years, many of the diseases that used to cause annual outbreaks with associated severe illness and sometimes death in infants and children now seem like distant memories. Such diseases include poliomyelitis, German measles, measles, mumps, tetanus, diphtheria and chickenpox.
When I was first practicing in clinical infectious diseases several decades ago, I frequently consulted on infants and children who were hospitalized with severe Haemophilus influenza, type B meningitis or sepsis. I watched children with these infections suffer brain injury or death. Since the introduction of the HiB vaccine in the 1990s, I have not seen a case of HiB disease in my practice for more than 15 years.
All the vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses, however, are lying in wait to return. All that is needed for these diseases to re-emerge is for our immunization rates of infants and children to decline. Vaccines are “victims of their own success.” By this, I mean because we do not have children experiencing these diseases we forget their severity.
The Institute of Medicine has conducted a thorough review of the risk of side effects from vaccines and found them to be very safe. Infants and children may have some fever, discomfort, and even possible swelling and redness at the injection site of some of the vaccinations. These reactions tell us the child has a robust immune system that is responding to the antigens in the vaccine and developing a protective antibody response.
It is never too early to think about immunizations for your baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health encourage pregnant women to educate themselves about the importance of immunizing their baby and themselves by checking reliable information at cdc.gov/vaccines or at ECBT.org. It is now recommended pregnant women receive the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy. The antibodies from the mother are passed to the fetus and protect the baby until the baby can begin receiving pertussis vaccination at 2 months of age.
Many are probably aware that Minnesota, including Duluth and surrounding communities, experienced a marked increase in the number of children and adults ill with pertussis this past year. Minnesota had more cases of pertussis in 2012 than in the preceding 50 years. Very young infants who develop pertussis become very ill; most require hospitalization; and most of the deaths occur in infants younger than 4 months.
Immunizing pregnant women for influenza provides antibody protection for both mothers and babies. Pregnant women have increased risk for severe disease with influenza. Babies of women who receive flu vaccine during pregnancy are more likely to be born full-term and at a healthy weight.
I am a strong advocate for vaccinating all infants, children and adults. Having access to clean water and to vaccinations has saved millions more lives than all other medical interventions combined. I have watched the incidence of childhood illnesses decrease during my medical career because of new vaccines becoming available.
The Minnesota Department of Health will have billboards in Duluth during National Infant Immunization Week. Please use this week to remind family members and other loved ones about the importance of vaccinating infants and children.
Dr. Linda Van Etta is a physician with St. Luke’s Infectious Disease Associates. She also serves on the Minnesota Immunization Practices Advisory Committee for the Minnesota Department of Health.