Are your children ready for school?
Making sure that children of all ages receive all their vaccinations on time is one of the most important things parents can do to ensure their children's long-term health -- as well as the health of friends, classmates and others in the community.
Some vaccine-preventable diseases, like pertussis (whooping cough) and chickenpox, remain common in the United States. On the other hand, other diseases prevented by vaccines are no longer common in this country because of vaccines.
However, our world is getting smaller and diseases that were once common here can still be only an airplane ride away and outbreaks still happen.
If we stopped vaccinating, even the few cases we have in the United States could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases. Next to clean water, vaccines save more lives in the world than anything else.
This year, providers will also be asking mom and dad if they've had the pertussis containing tetanus/diphtheria shot-Tdap, which became available in 2005.
Preliminary data through late July 2012 show that more than 20,000 cases of pertussis have already been reported in this country -- more than 2,300 in Minnesota. Many more cases go unreported.
During this time, nine deaths have been reported, all in children younger than 1 year old. Fifty percent of infants with whooping cough require hospitalization.
We haven't seen this much whooping cough since the 1940s. Outbreaks of pertussis at middle and high schools can occur as protection from childhood vaccines fades. By making sure that children and adults are protected from pertussis, we can prevent outbreaks in our schools and communities and protect others at high risk of severe consequences, including infants.
While the vaccine isn't 100 percent effective in preventing illness, it will decrease the number of cases significantly and vaccinated people who get pertussis will have a milder and shorter illness and be less contagious.
Another disease that can spread very easily in a school environment is measles. In 2011, the number of reported cases of measles in the U.S. was higher than usual, reaching 222. Twenty-six cases occurred in Minnesota as a result of two outbreaks related to international travel of unvaccinated young children.
Measles comes into America from countries where the disease still circulates, including Europe, Africa, Asia, India and the Philippines.
Measles can be serious, causing hospitalization and even death. Young children are at the highest risk for serious complications from measles. One in three is hospitalized.
People who travel to countries where measles is widespread should make sure they're immune, either by vaccination or history of disease. Most people born before 1957 were exposed to measles and are considered immune.
The Minnesota school immunization law requires students to receive two MMRs (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) before entering kindergarten. Other immunizations required for school and day care are diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox) and Hib (Haemophilus influenza type b that causes meningitis).
Parents who object to immunizations may have an exemption signed and notarized.
Vaccination is a natural way to stimulate the body's own immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies and be prepared to attack those vaccine-preventable diseases that can cause illness, disability or death.
By getting vaccinated, we not only protect ourselves, but others in our community who may be at higher risk of serious consequences. Studies show that by vaccinating infants against pneumonia, there's been a 90 percent reduction in the amount of pneumonia seen in adults.
To learn more about the diseases that can be prevented with vaccines, as well as the benefits and risks of vaccination, go to http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/fact-sheet-parents.html.
Parents can contact their child's school, medical provider or their local public health office to find out what vaccinations are needed.
Goodhue County Health and Human Services offers low or no cost immunizations from 2 to 4 p.m. every Tuesday for children and adults who do not have insurance or whose insurance doesn't completely cover the cost of vaccination.
All medical providers in Goodhue County also offer low or no cost vaccinations to children who are uninsured via the Minnesota Vaccines for Children program.