World Immunization Week began April 21 and will continue on through this week.
It’s an attempt to raise awareness of the importance of vaccinations and the role they play in saving lives around the world.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions and prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths every year.
Adolescents and adults benefit as well, as protection against meningitis, some forms of cancer, and influenza has recently become available.
The virtual disappearance of diseases such as measles and polio, however, have led some to believe that immunizations are no longer necessary.
But it wasn’t so long ago that children were disabled or even died before these vaccines were available. Pertussis has made a comeback; the Arizona Department of Health Services receives reports of around 200-300 cases per year.
But there is good news: in recent years, the rate of immunization among young children in Arizona has increased.
Formed in 1993 because of an alarming drop in immunization rates among young children statewide, The Arizona Partnership for Immunizations, or TAPI, says coverage rates have improved dramatically.
Cigna Medical Director of Primary Care and Pediatrics Andrea Houfek, MD, who is a member of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a TAPI steering committee member, debunks eight myths about vaccines:
Myth – Diseases that are preventable by vaccine no longer exist in the US, so it isn’t important to vaccinate my child.
Fact - Due to the success of today’s immunization programs, it is now uncommon to see cases of measles, meningitis, chickenpox, pertussis and other diseases – however, they do still exist in the world and would re-emerge here if immunization rates fell.
Myth - Kids get too many shots these days.
Fact – Combination vaccines are available to reduce the number of needle sticks your child will receive so parents should talk to their pediatrician.
Myth - Multiple vaccines given at the same time is a bad idea – it would be better for my child to get one at a time or give them on a delayed schedule.
Fact – Delaying vaccines can leave your child vulnerable to diseases when they are the most vulnerable. To ensure the maximum protection and safety for children of various ages, parents should follow the Center for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics vaccination schedule.
Myth - I had chickenpox as a kid, and it wasn’t that bad. I think it would be better if my child got the “natural disease” instead of the vaccine.
Fact - Many parents remember getting chickenpox (varicella) because it is a common childhood disease. Although this disease is common, parents should keep in mind how uncomfortable and potentially severe this disease can be for their child.
The chickenpox vaccine can protect your child from the potential severity of this disease including rash, fever, itchiness, tiredness and potential serious side effects like skin infection, pneumonia, and brain damage.
Myth - The MMR vaccine causes autism.
Fact - Children receive the MMR vaccine at 12-15 months. Typically, signs of autism often appear when a child is around the same age (15-18 months).
Due to the close proximity of the vaccine and typical age at which autism signs appear, parents have become concerned about a link, however, there is no supporting scientific data that shows a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Myth - Lots of people get the flu every year. It isn’t that bad, so the vaccine isn’t necessary for my child.
Fact - Young children are at high risk for serious flu complications such as bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration so it is recommended that your child be vaccinated for flu annually starting at 6 months of age.
Myth - Hepatitis B vaccine is not necessary for a newborn unless the mother has hepatitis during pregnancy.
Fact – The hepatitis B vaccine is important for all babies and vaccinating at birth ensures that babies are protected from the very beginning of life from any exposure to the hepatitis B virus. Even if the mother and the baby are both negative for hepatitis B at birth, it is important to get the vaccine as they can be exposed from a family member or caregiver.
Myth - I don’t need to vaccinate my child because they will be protected by other children who have been vaccinated.
Fact – Relying on the immunization of others as means to protect your own child is risky. The more parents that follow this way of thinking, the fewer vaccinated children we will have, and the more likely of a chance that a serious disease will return and infect all of those unvaccinated.
Making the decision to not immunize your child can put your child and other children around him or her at risk of contracting or spreading disease.