MAITLAND — March of Dimes, the leading organization for mom and baby health, urges parents to immunize their children against infectious diseases before the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. Influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles are just a few of the serious vaccine-preventable diseases that still affect children and adults in the United States today.
“Immunizations are as important today as they were in the age of polio in the 1950s, when the March of Dimes funded the pioneering work that resulted in the vaccine that still is used today against this deadly disease,” said Dr. Karen Harris, Program Services Committee chair for the March of Dimes Florida Chapter. “Back-to-school season is the time of the year when we especially encourage kids to get their shots to protect their health.”
Even small groups of unimmunized people can quickly spread disease, Dr. Harris says. In the US, both measles and whooping cough are at epidemic rates.
According to the Florida Department of Health, the most recent school year (2013 – 2014) immunization status reports for all 67 Florida counties indicate rates of:
●Kindergarten: 93.2 percent (state and national goal is 95 percent)
●Seventh grade: 96.6 percent (state goal is 95 percent; national goal is 90 percent)
●Two-year-old children (2013): 86.72 percent (state and national goal is 90 percent)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says diseases can spread when infected people cough, sneeze, or even talk. Children may spread the flu virus for up to three days before they show any symptoms and for longer than a week after getting sick, putting their classmates at risk of becoming sick, too.
The CDC, the March of Dimes, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all recommend that, in addition to children, all pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant should get an annual flu shot in the fall. The normal biological changes of pregnancy put pregnant women at increased risk of the harmful effects of flu. Recent research suggests that the flu vaccine may also lower a woman’s risk of having a stillbirth or miscarriage. “The flu vaccine helps protect your body from infection, and this protection is in turn passed on to your baby during pregnancy,” adds Dr. Harris, explaining that immunization during pregnancy helps keep the newborn safe during the first few months of life until he or she is ready for the first set of vaccinations.
Parents, grandparents, caregivers, and anyone in close contact with an infant should get an adult pertussis vaccine to help protect themselves and to help stop the spread of the disease to the newborns in their lives.
Newborns are most at-risk for this highly contagious and often serious disease because they don't begin receiving their own vaccinations until they are two months old and may not be protected until they have received at least three doses of an infant pertussis vaccine.
This year, the March of Dimes continues their work on the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign, a national education campaign started in 2009 to help raise awareness about the potential dangers of pertussis and the importance of adult vaccination.
March of Dimes also supports the “Word of Mom: Celebrating Generations of Healthy Advice” campaign, which empowers moms to make the best health decisions for themselves and their families by making sure their families’ immunizations are up to date.
March of Dimes continues to fund vaccine research and to work with international coalitions seeking to improve immunization rates and eliminate preventable diseases that threaten babies and children. More information on baby vaccinations is available from the March of Dimes website.