Infant immunizations safe and important

Published 6:54 pm Friday, April 22, 2022

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Here’s hoping that the politically fueled controversy over COVID-19 vaccinations doesn’t cause a decline in time-tested childhood immunizations, which have been critically important in stamping out or severely curtailing several major preventable diseases in the past half-century.

The good people at ImmunizeVa, a statewide coalition of medical and public health professionals and community stakeholders, sent us a timely reminder that April 25-29 is National Infant Immunization Week, an opportunity to remind caregivers about the importance of protecting children ages 2 and younger from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The reality is that babies depend on their parents and guardians to make critical decisions to keep them safe.

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ImmunizeVA, the Institute for Public Health Innovation, the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Minus 9 to 5, an initiative of Eastern Virginia Medical School, are working to encourage Virginians to maintain the recommended youth vaccine schedule. Children should get vaccinated during their next doctor’s visit or at their local Virginia Department of Health office, the coalition says.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions in families’ lives. In some cases, it has meant that children have missed or delayed their wellness checkups and critical vaccines,” said Dr. Michael Martin, president of the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Vaccines are critical to ensuring children stay healthy.”

Infants, small children and pregnant women should catch up on missed vaccinations to protect themselves and their communities before returning to school, summer camp and other in-person settings, the experts advise.

The 2021 Virginia Annual Immunization Survey saw a significant decrease in kindergarten entry vaccination rates, according to ImmunizeVA. From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of immunizations required for school entry decreased from 84.8% to 80.4%, VDH reports. “Kindergarten readiness includes being immunized and healthy, ready to learn,” said Dr. Jane Elyce Glasgow, executive director of the EVMS Minus 9 to 5 program. The organization’s 2022 Hampton Roads Early Childhood COVID-19 response/recovery agenda prioritizes educating families about the importance of on-time, well-child visits and immunizations.

According to the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, if vaccination rates decline below levels required to maintain herd immunity, which protects vulnerable members of society who are too old or too sick to get vaccinated, dangerous outbreaks of preventable diseases could follow.

During a time when many once-trusted institutions such as health care face over-the-top skepticism, we urge parents to listen to public health professionals.

“Virginia has a goal to protect children from vaccine-preventable disease, and we can only accomplish this with the support of parents, guardians, and healthcare providers,” said Rebecca Epstein, ImmunizeVA senior program manager. “Parents are encouraged to ask pediatricians how to ensure their child stays updated on their vaccinations. It’s important to talk to pediatricians or trusted health care professionals to get the facts. Vaccine trust is built through millions of conversations between parents, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and community members.”