To the editor:
Immunization is one of the most powerful tools available to protect the health of individuals and our communities. Vaccines are responsible for the control of many infectious diseases that were once common in this country and around the world, including polio, measles, diphtheria, rubella and mumps.
Vaccines eradicated smallpox, one of the most devastating diseases in history. Over the years, vaccines have prevented countless cases of infectious diseases and saved literally millions of lives.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a good time for New Jerseyans of all ages to protect themselves and their communities by catching up on their vaccinations. We never outgrow our need for immunizations. Across the lifespan, from babies to seniors—immunizations reduce disease and save lives.
With the new school year approaching, it’s the perfect time to ask your health care provider which immunizations your child needs in order to be up-to-date for back to school. Vaccines are safe, effective and critically important for young children, who are especially vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Thanks to widespread vaccinations, many diseases are not commonly seen in the U.S and parents are often unaware their children are still at risk for many serious and life-threatening diseases. Vaccine-preventable diseases such as varicella (chickenpox), measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), and diphtheria can result in hospitalizations and even premature death.
Recently, New Jersey and the nation have seen increases in the vaccine-preventable disease pertussis known as whooping cough. Pertussis is a very contagious disease that can cause serious illness and even death, especially in infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated.
In 2010, the United States had 25 infants less than one year of age die from pertussis; more than half of infants who contract the disease require hospitalization. Infants and young children need their recommended five shots of DTaP for maximum protection.
Adolescent and adult booster vaccination with Tdap is important for everybody, especially for those who will be around infants. By ensuring that both children and adults are immunized, we can greatly limit the spread of this illness, which can be fatal in young children if not properly treated.
Diseases are often brought into this country by people who get infected abroad and can rapidly spread among susceptible individuals in our schools and communities. For example, an imported disease outbreak occurred from June 2009 through June 2010, when approximately 3,500 cases of mumps were reported in New York City, two upstate New York counties and Ocean County in New Jersey. There were 425 cases reported in Ocean County alone. As part of this outbreak, 41 patients were hospitalized.
The initial patient for this outbreak was an 11-year-old child who returned to the United States from the United Kingdom. The child became ill while attending a summer camp, exposing other campers who then spread the infection within their communities when they returned home.
Vaccine-preventable diseases can have devastating effects on a child’s health. There are far too many stories of parents who chose to space or skip vaccinations and the bad outcomes that resulted. Many of those who survived needed to relearn basic skills, like talking, eating and walking, and required ongoing medical care. It is critical that children and adults get vaccinations in a timely manner.
Most childhood vaccines should be given by age two, with some follow-up doses at ages four to six. Immunizations are important for older children, too. In addition to ensuring childhood vaccines are current, adolescents need tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine, vaccine to protect against meningococcal disease.
College students living in dormitories need meningococcal vaccine. Older adults may need tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis, shingles, or pneumococcal vaccine. All individuals may need other immunizations, too, depending on age, vaccination history, medical conditions, high-risk exposures, or type and location of travel. Check with your health care provider on what vaccinations you may need based on your individual situation.
Vaccines are the safest and most effective tool we have for preventing vaccine-preventable diseases—they protect both the people who receive them and those with whom they come in contact. The Department of Health encourages all people to protect their health by being immunized against infectious diseases.
Mary E. O’Dowd
Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Health