We’re blessed. Blessed to live in a time when it’s no longer commonplace for Americans to lose their children to infectious diseases. Blessed to live in a time when antibiotics can treat many serious infections and immunizations can prevent many of them from ever sickening our children in the first place. It’s hard to imagine there was a time when polio struck fear in parents in the summers and when more than 200,000 people each year were sickened by diphtheria. Ask someone over the age of 70; they’ll remember what it was like.
While Tennessee enjoys one of the highest childhood immunization rates in the country, there are young children in our state who remain vulnerable to serious, but preventable, infections. Nearly 22 percent of Tennessee’s children ages 19-35 months are missing critical immunizations. For some, immunizations are incomplete due to lack of access to care: parents may lack transportation or may work multiple jobs that limit their ability to take their children to receive immunizations on time. For others, parents have made a choice to withhold immunizations from their children, leaving them at risk for contracting many preventable diseases.
The fact that vaccines work to prevent disease may lead some to think they are no longer needed. Many parents and providers have never seen polio or tetanus. Some parents haven’t even seen chicken pox. It’s easy to think of these as diseases of the past; however, children in the United States still can, and do, get vaccine-preventable diseases. It’s critical that we not lose sight of this. In a global world where diseases like measles are a plane ride away and the next influenza pandemic is unpredictable, immunizations are our best defense.
The science around vaccines is clear. Extensive research has proven vaccines don’t cause autism and are not toxic. While some vaccines are more effective than others, all vaccines have saved lives.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month. It’s a time to celebrate all that medical science has accomplished in order to help our children grow up healthy and without disease.
Every child deserves the best start in life. Immunize your baby. Make sure your grandchildren have received all of the recommended immunizations. Offer to help a young mom take her baby to the doctor for immunizations. While you’re there, make sure you’re up to date on your immunizations. Adults need shots, too.
Michelle Fiscus, MD FAAP
Medical Director, Tennessee Immunization Program
Tennessee Department of Health