Back-to-school season is here; a time for parents to gather school supplies, check the bus schedule and make sure everyone in the family is up to date on their vaccines. As you are adding important dates to your calendars, scheduling haircuts and preparing to close out another summer, don’t forget that August is also National Immunization Awareness Month. It is a time to ensure that vaccinations are up to date, a time help prevent harmful disease from spreading through the community and affecting you and your family.
While immunizations have significantly reduced the incidence of many serious infectious diseases, vaccination rates for some disease are not meeting national public health goals. The National Immunization Survey provides data on the rate of children ages 19-35 months in each state that are up-to-date on a series of immunizations, including those that protect against: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, chicken pox, rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, “historically, Idaho and other western states have had lower immunization rates than the national average.”
The best way to safeguard our community is through vaccinating as many individuals as possible. When significant numbers have immunity, it provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. Typically a child needs several doses (boosters) of any given vaccine to develop immunity. Since these are given over many months, children remain susceptible to infection until the series is complete. During this time, children depend on a low level of infection and/or a high immunization rate in the community to avoid disease. In short, the greater the proportion of individuals who are fully immunized, the smaller the probability that a susceptible individual will be exposed to an infectious individual.
Of course, when it comes to talking about immunizations, we often think of children and overlook the importance of immunizations across the lifespan, from infants to the elderly. Yes, all adults should get vaccines to protect their health. Even healthy adults can become seriously ill and pass certain illnesses on to others. Being up to date on vaccinations are especially important for older adults and for adults with chronic conditions such as asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), diabetes or heart disease. For those who are in close contact with the very young, the very old, people with weakened immune systems and those who cannot be vaccinated, being up to date on vaccinations is quite important.
All adults should get a flu vaccine each year. Additionally, every adult should get the Td or Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster should every ten years. Depending on occupation, travel, health status, vaccination history and other risk factors, adults may need other vaccines such as shingles, pneumococcal, hepatitis, and HPV.