Immunizations! Is Your Family Covered?

August 02, 2016
The new school season is almost here and parents and children will soon be rushing around to ensure that new school supplies, appropriate clothing, lunch bags, backpacks and other required school items are purchased and ready for the first day of school. As a former school nurse I repeatedly observed parents arriving at school on the first day lacking the required proof that their children had been immunized against seven communicable diseases.

While side effects of immunizations remain a hot topic of conversation in some circles there is little doubt that one of the most significant achievement in public health during the 20th century is the use of immunizations to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, eliminated poliovirus in the United States and significantly reduced the number of cases of measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis and other diseases. Getting immunized is a lifelong, life-protecting community effort regardless of age, sex, race, ethnic background or country of origin. Recommended vaccinations begin soon after birth and continue throughout a lifetime, offering safe and effective protection from infectious diseases. Being aware of the vaccines that are recommended for infants, children, adolescents and adults of all ages and making sure that we receive these immunizations is critical to protecting ourselves and our community from

Once again the US Department of Health and Human Services has designated August as National Immunization Awareness Month. While all immunization recommendations for infants, children, adolescents, and adults are important to pay attention to, measles and pertussis (whooping cough) continue to garner much attention due to the prevalence rates of these diseases in the United States. Starting July 1, 2016, all California school children must be vaccinated against common childhood diseases. This tough state law was passed following a measles outbreak involving 131 people in a California amusement park in 2014. In 2015, 189 individuals in twenty-four states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles. A CDC Provisional Pertussis Surveillance Report shows 18,166 cases in the United States during 2015.

The side effects of measles, especially for babies and young children can be dangerous. For some children, measles can lead to pneumonia, deafness, lifelong brain damage and even death. About 150,000 to 175,000 people die from measles each year around the world, mostly in places where children do not get the measles vaccine.

Pertussis is one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable disease in the United States. There is a high vaccine coverage for children nationwide, however, protection from vaccine fades over time. While pertussis vaccines are very effective they are not 100% effective.  There is a chance that a fully vaccinated person can catch this very contagious disease if pertussis is circulating.

Pertussis can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults.  Infants under the age of two months are most vulnerable because they have not yet been vaccinated for pertussis. This means that parents, siblings, grandparents and others around a newborn should be vaccinated in order to protect the infant.

A third communicable disease that has gotten a lot of press in the last couple of years is meningococcal meningitis. Unlike viral meningitis, meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection, can cause death or disability within just 1 day. College students are specifically at risk for meningococcal because they are often found in packed lecture halls, small dorm rooms and athletic events, among other places where large groups come together. This disease can be difficult to recognize, especially in its early stages because it’s symptoms are similar to those of more common viral illnesses. Complications can include permanent brain damage, seizures, kidney failure, hearing loss, loss of limbs and even death. The Voices of Meningitis campaign was begun within the past few years to make sure that all parents of youth going to college are aware that there is a vaccination available. 

The message that comes across each year during August is that this is a great time to insure that all family members have received the proper immunizations. Recommendations and guidelines for all individuals including adults can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website: Do your part to celebrate National Immunization Awareness Month by insuring that you, your family and friends are up to date on all the recommended immunizations. Stay Well!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Measles (Rubeola), June 1, 2016.
Department  of Health and Human Services,, 2016.
Voices of Meningitis: A meningococcal Disease Prevention Campaign from the National Association of School Nurses, About Meningitis.

Connie Pearson, RN, MN, Chair

Health Ministries Task Force