As parents, we want basic things for our children. We want them to grow up knowing that they are loved. We want to provide them with opportunities in life to reach their fullest potential. And we want them to be healthy and happy. There are many things parents want to give their children. But good health is perhaps the greatest gift. Vaccination is one of the most important ways a parent can protect their child's health.
National Infant Immunization Week is April 21 to 28. Vaccines are one of history's most successful and cost-effective public health tools for preventing serious disease and death. Diseases that were once common-place, such as polio, measles, mumps, diphtheria and rubella, are now only distant memories for most Americans. Today, there are few reminders of the suffering, disabilities and premature deaths caused by diseases that are now preventable with vaccines.
Our success also means many parents don't understand the importance of childhood immunization and what diseases can be prevented. Most of today's parents have never seen these diseases and the suffering they can cause and, therefore, are less concerned about the need for immunization compared to other parental priorities. However, these diseases are not diseases of the past. They are still with us and circulating in many parts of the world.
We can prevent more diseases than ever before, yet despite recent gains in childhood immunization coverage, more than 1 million of our nation's two-year-olds are still missing one or more of the recommended immunizations.
Low immunization coverage is an issue that impacts the entire community. Therefore, community resources, and more importantly, community participation is essential to increasing immunization coverage. A decision to vaccinate a child is a decision to not only protect that individual child, but to protect the community as well by reducing the spread of disease to those who have not been vaccinated either by choice or because of medical reasons, such as children with leukemia.
Parents who delay or refuse to immunize their children because of concerns about vaccines should talk to their healthcare provider and research reliable sources of information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/nip) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.aap.org). Families unable to afford vaccinations should contact the Northwest Visiting Nurse Association (Steamboat 879-1632, Craig 824- 8233). The VNA provides children's vaccinations on a sliding scale fee of free to $14 per vaccine.
Parents and health care providers must work together to ensure that all children are fully immunized.
Steve Ross, M.D., and Janice Poirot, R.N.