April 20-27 is National Infant Immunization Week. Although there are infants and children in this country being immunized every day, this is the week to remind parents, caregivers and health care professionals of the importance of vaccines.
Infants are immunized against 14 vaccine preventable diseases. Vaccines are now given to prevent not only older diseases like diphtheria, tetanus and polio but for diseases like bacterial meningitis, chicken pox and a viral diarrheal disease. Vaccines are one of the greatest public health achievements of the past century, and more vaccines are in the pipelines to continue to save lives.
Although some parents have been concerned and even misinformed that vaccines cause autism, study after study, including one published last month, have shown that there is NOT a link between vaccines and autism. What we do know is that vaccines save lives, lots of lives.
Before the meningitis vaccines for both pneumococcal and H. flu bacterial infections were available there were hundreds of children who died each year. I can remember taking care of some very sick children, and even doing spinal taps in my office to rule out meningitis. Some of the spinal taps were positive and a few of my young patients were fortunate to survive bacterial meningitis, but they are now adults with deafness. We had a few children in our practice during the 1980s who died from meningitis.
During my early years of practice bacterial infections of the blood were also more common and we hospitalized a lot more infants and children than we do now. I will also never forget a previously healthy 2 year old little boy who died from chickenpox and a bacterial infection of his blood stream. This occurred almost 20 years ago, before the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine was available. He would have been protected just a year later when the vaccine was introduced. My youngest son received one of the first doses of varivax vaccine after it was approved as I knew that children did die from chickenpox and I could not give him that vaccine fast enough!
We all owe a great deal of gratitude to the brilliant scientists who study diseases and develop vaccines to prevent those diseases. There are years and years of work that go into not only developing a vaccine, but study after study to prove their efficacy and safety. We are all healthier for this dedication.
So, if your child is not up to date on their immunizations, this is the week to start to play catch up. If you have a new baby, plan on starting immunizations at their 2 month check up. Big shout out for vaccines!