Remember when having the chicken pox was a rite of passage? For most of us that meant itching, soothing soaks and a week or so home from school. With the invention of the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine, those iconic red dots are mostly a thing of the past. What many people may not know is that chicken pox was once responsible for deadly complications and thousands of hospitalizations annually. The advent of the vaccine has helped to nearly eliminate associated deaths and significantly reduce hospitalizations.
While chicken pox is one example, there are a host of other vaccine-preventable diseases that are no longer posing significant health threats to society. Many of us, including physicians, have never experienced, treated or seen cases of polio, smallpox or measles. That’s because vaccines have long prevented these diseases. Vaccinations are one of the greatest inventions in public health, helping to reduce the spread of deadly diseases. As August is National Immunization Month and back-to-school season, it’s a great time to learn about and understand the importance of vaccinations for children.
Unfortunately, in recent years there have been an increasing number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. This may be due to misperceptions and inaccurate information about their safety and effectiveness.
The fact that several diseases are now under control and rarely seen speaks to the power and importance of immunization. Moreover, numerous studies have shown the safety and effectiveness of routine vaccinations. A recent study in Pediatrics found that vaccines rarely led to health complications and the benefits of routine childhood immunizations far outweigh the risks. However, the bacteria and viruses that cause these vaccine-preventable diseases are still present in the environment, and the protection provided by vaccines does not prevent future infections among unvaccinated infants and children.
Think about how easily germs spread in your child’s classroom. Infectious diseases function the same way and are spread from person to person. Immunization offers a critical prevention tool to reduce the spread of disease. The good news is that even if your children are behind on their immunization schedule, your healthcare professional can administer the right shots so that they can catch up.
Vaccination is not just a personal decision. It impacts families, communities and the larger health care system. Keeping a child’s vaccinations up-to-date can provide protection to vulnerable individuals, including babies, seniors and those with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women can impart protection to their unborn child.
I strongly urge families to make an appointment for immunizations now. It is important to complete the vaccine schedule before school starts, especially for children starting pre-school and kindergarten. For more information and a complete list of recommended vaccines for kids, please visit our Pediatric Infectious Disease website. Let’s all make a point to get shots this fall to ensure the health and safety of your loved ones and the community.
Yvonne Maldonado, MD, is the chief of pediatric infectious diseases in the Department of Pediatrics and an attending physician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health. She has nearly 30 years of extraordinary leadership experience in her field, which includes publishing a wealth of research papers on pediatric infectious disease treatments and therapies. Dr. Maldonado is a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Vaccine Advisory Committee and also sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases.
- Yvonne Maldonado, MD
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