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Making a case for immunizations

National Immunization Awareness Month is an annual observance held in August to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. History reminds us of how vaccines have changed the health of the world over the past two centuries. The first vaccine — smallpox — was developed in 1789. In 1949, the last case of smallpox in the U.S. was reported, and in 1979 smallpox had been eliminated from the world. Polio has been eliminated in all but two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fewer than five cases of diphtheria have been reported in the U.S. in the past decade. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, and in 2016, from North and South America.

These and many other devastating diseases have been contained, especially in industrialized nations, because of the development and widespread distribution of safe, effective and affordable vaccines.Today there are 18 vaccines routinely given to children and adults in addition to seven other non-routine vaccines recommended for travel, military use, or special circumstances, such as rabies prevention.

Yet vaccine preventable diseases continue to cause illness globally and pose a threat to our families and communities.

For example, measles continues to cause outbreaks due to international travel. The Disneyland outbreak in 2014, which spread to 667 people in 27 states, reportedly came from overseas, carried either by a foreign tourist or by an American coming back with the virus who was not vaccinated and not immune. The 79 cases in the recent measles outbreak in Minnesota, sparked by concerns about vaccine safety, surpass the number of cases reported in the U.S. in all of 2016.

Until all countries, including the U.S., can achieve high immunization rates, the risk of these diseases remains. Herd or community immunity can prevent diseases from spreading. When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines — such as infants, pregnant women or immunocompromised individuals — get some protection.

August is also the time for parents to make sure that their children are up to date on their immunizations before sending them back to school. Many schools will exclude students from attending classes until they're vaccinated. For a list of immunizations required for school, see www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/immunize/readykidswhento.pdf .

Federal vaccine programs assure that immunizations are available for all adults and children, including those without health insurance. Contact Goodhue County Health & Human Services at 651-385-3200 or your doctor for information about low cost or free immunizations. For more information about vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases, go to https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/index.html.

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