With August being National Immunization Awareness Month, health officials are emphasizing the importance of children and adults getting vaccinated against the flu and other diseases to protect their health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pediatricians are always concerned when we see a drop in immunization rates since this could lead to an increase in vaccine preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough,” said Dr. Mark B. Salzman, regional lead, pediatric infectious diseases, with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
“If vaccination rates decline, we may possibly see an increase in some preventable diseases that can have dire consequences on children’s health,” Salzman said.
It is also critically important for adults to be up-to-date with their vaccinations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC states adults are at-risk of contracting serious diseases that are still common in the US.
“Each year, thousands of adults in the United States get sick from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines — some people are hospitalized, and some even die,” said Dr. Kimberly Petrick, a family medicine physician.
“According to the CDC, even if you got all of your vaccines as a child, the protection from some vaccines can wear off over time,” Petrick said. “You may also be at risk for other diseases due to your age, job, lifestyle, travel, or health conditions.”
Infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (like those undergoing cancer treatment) are especially vulnerable to vaccine preventable diseases.
Vaccines are one of the safest ways to protect your health and any side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. Severe side effects are very rare.
Salzman said a drop in childhood vaccinations started in March, when stay-at-home orders were issued. As the shelter-in-place directive has been lifted, the vaccination rate has improved, but remains below average.
He urges parents not to jeopardize their children’s health by not vaccinating them against common childhood diseases, which pose significant risks to infants and young children who are not immunized. Last year, a measles outbreak occurred across the country due to a lack of immunizations.
Although some people are hesitant to vaccinate their children, studies have repeatedly shown that most childhood vaccines are 90 to 99 percent effective in preventing disease and protect our society against the spread of disease.
According to the CDC, several important achievements have been reached in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases:
Routine childhood immunization among children born 1994-2018 will prevent an estimated 419 million illnesses, 26.8 million hospitalizations and 936,000 early deaths over the course of their lifetimes, at a net savings of $406 billion in direct costs and $1.9 trillion in total societal costs.
Through immunization, we can now protect infants and children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before age 2.
Vaccines have drastically reduced infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases in the US.
“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many health care organizations have taken important steps to ensure their patients’ safety, and to reassure them that visiting a medical facility for any health reason remains safe, and is critically important to protect one’s health,” Petrick said.
Medical facilities should and do screen temperatures before the public is allowed inside, she explained. Patients who are sick are often seen in a different area, or are brought in through a different entrance to a separate area.
Some facilities also have drive-thru vaccination sites for people who prefer not to enter a medical office building.
“It’s understandable that some people question the safety of vaccines,” Petrick said. “However, the evidence is clear — vaccinations are safe, and we’re taking the necessary steps to ensure our patients’ safety.”