Reminding Value Of Vaccines

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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The Department of Health is observing August as National Immunization Awareness Month and reminding Tennesseans of the impact of both new and old vaccines on our health. Ten years ago, routine childhood vaccines could prevent 10 serious diseases of childhood. Today, doctors routinely vaccinate children to prevent those diseases along with six other potentially life-threatening conditions: pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease, cervical cancer, influenza, hepatitis A and rotavirus diarrhea.

"Immunizations are the first line of defense in protecting children from very serious and potentially deadly illnesses," said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. "Nationally, we are beginning to see a resurgence of preventable diseases that had all but been eradicated, simply due to a lack of inoculation. I urge all parents to keep their children's vaccinations up to date to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering of our most precious citizens."

The rotavirus vaccine is one of the newest vaccines, and was first recommended for young infants in February 2006. Rotavirus causes epidemics of severe diarrhea among infants and young children every winter and spring, resulting in well over 200,000 emergency room visits and at least 55,000 hospitalizations during each rotavirus season in the United States.

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“Until recently, we could confidently tell parents that nearly every child would have one or more bouts of rotavirus diarrhea before they turned five,” says Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “This year’s rotavirus season resulted in fewer than half the cases of any season in the last 15 years. It’s amazing to witness the dramatic drop in illness in such a short time after we started using the vaccine.”

While new vaccines produce dramatic results, older vaccines, like the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, remain essential weapons against diseases common in much of the world. Longstanding MMR vaccine requirements for school and daycare have made measles rare. However, this year there has been a surge of measles outbreaks in the United States, with the CDC reporting nearly three times the number of cases so far this year as were reported in all of 2007. The outbreaks here have been triggered by unimmunized travelers infected in other countries, including Switzerland and Israel, where large outbreaks are ongoing and vaccination levels have fallen in recent years.

Measles is extremely contagious and can linger in the air even after the sick person has left the room. Although some 2008 cases were in infants too young to be vaccinated, this year’s outbreaks have primarily spread through social networks of families who have delayed or avoided MMR vaccine for personal reasons. Tennessee has not had any cases yet, but measles could arrive at any time.

“What worries me is that some of these parents are avoiding vaccines because of frightening and inaccurate information they encounter on television and online. With all the unverified information out there, parents need help finding resources they can rely on,” Moore says. “The first person to turn to is your pediatrician. He or she has access to the latest information and knows you and your child best. There also are excellent governmental and non-governmental Web sites available for parents.”

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