National Immunization Awareness Month is an annual observance in August to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages, said Linda Inmon, Extension specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
It is also a good time to make sure children receive their vaccinations before the school year, she said.
“Vaccines – or immunization shots – are vitally important because they protect your health, as well as the health of those around you,” she said. “Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s defense mechanisms to develop immunity to diseases. They protect us against serious and potentially life-threatening diseases such as polio, measles, whooping cough, chickenpox, flu and pneumonia.”
Inmon said vaccines cause the body to produce antibodies that fight off a perceived infection, which occasionally leads to a low-grade fever. Some parents may be concerned about their children facing a vaccine-induced fever. However, they can be reassured that a mild fever is a normal part of the process as their child’s body builds immunity to the disease.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the vaccines used in the U.S. and monitors the facilities where they are produced. Every licensed vaccine goes through years of safety testing.
“Despite the evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, some parents choose to delay or deny their children’s vaccination because of commonly circulated myths and misconceptions,” Inmon said. “The decision to delay or deny children’s vaccinations should not be taken lightly because diseases such as whooping cough, chicken pox, the flu and Haemophilus influenzae type B, which causes meningitis, still circulate. No one can predict whether their child will contract a disease in the first place or whether a disease they catch will be mild or life-threatening.”
According to the Arkansas State Board of Health, children who are not vaccinated cannot be admitted to public or private schools. Parents must present an immunization shot record from a licensed physician or a public health department when enrolling their child for school.
“A child who has not yet been age-appropriately immunized but is in process of receiving the needed doses can check with their health department, primary care physician or school for more information about school enrollment requirements,” Inmon said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children 4 to 6 years old should receive the following vaccines:
• Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis) (DTaP);
• Polio (IPV);
• Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR);
• Chickenpox (varicella);
Pre-teens and teens entering middle school and high school need additional vaccines to bridge the gap between early childhood and adulthood, Inmon said. Three specific vaccines help provide protection against certain cancers, genital warts, a disease leading to meningitis, and tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
Pre-teens and teens should therefore receive the following vaccines:
• Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY);
• Tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis) (Tdap).
“Always keep in mind that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine annually,” Inmon said.
For more information and guidelines on vaccines/immunizations from the CDC, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines. The website contains resources for parents who want to learn more about how vaccines work and how to make decisions involving vaccines.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.
— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.