One of the great public health successes of the 20th century is the widespread availability of immunizations against life-threatening or debilitating diseases.
The prevalence of these diseases has been reduced by more than 97 percent, saving lives, improving quality of life and reducing health-care costs.
Some childhood diseases have become only memories to many, such as polio and smallpox, but we cannot take for granted the protection provided by vaccines.
Today, tens of thousands of people still die from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Vaccines offer safe and effective protection from numerous diseases: measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, chicken pox, Hepatitis A and B, to name a few.
Because children are particularly susceptible to infection, most vaccines are given during the first six years of life.
Most of these are meant to provide lifetime protection, but some require booster vaccinations to provide continued coverage.
In recent years, more vaccines have become available, such as Varicella (chicken pox). Often thought to be a harmless childhood disease, chicken pox causes 12,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths in the United States each year. As more children become vaccinated against the disease, the risks to an unvaccinated person rise. Complications and death are more common in older individuals who get the disease.
Vaccines are safe, but, in rare cases, may cause mild, short-term, diseaselike symptoms, without causing the disease itself.
Some parents have avoided vaccines because of a concern that the vaccine may cause autism in their child. Signs of autism frequently appear at the same time that children receive the MMR vaccine, but scientific studies have not shown any relationship between vaccination with the MMR vaccine and the development of autism.
Special consideration must be made before vaccinating pregnant women.
There are some vaccines, however, that are recommended during pregnancy, such as the flu vaccine and tetanus. Vaccines should never be given during pregnancy unless recommended by your physician.
By staying up-to-date on recommended vaccines, we can protect ourselves, our family, and our community from serious, life-threatening infections.
For more information about recommended vaccines, go online to www.partnersforimmunization.org/pdf/Vaccine_safety.pdf
Contact your physician to see if your immunizations are up to date.
This week’s Health Talk was written by Claire Reed, R.N., employee health nurse at Rutland Regional Medical Center.