Health Officials Remind Parents About the Importance of “Back to School” Immunizations

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

The Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP), the Illinois Maternal & Child Health Coalition (IMCHC) and state health officials urge parents to see a doctor now to ensure their child’s immunizations are up-to-date before heading back to the classroom this fall.??To coincide with the back to school season, August is National Immunization Awareness Month to highlight immunizations as one of the most important ways parents can protect their children against serious diseases. ??

“Because of the success of vaccines in preventing disease in the United States, parents are often unaware their children are still at risk for many serious and life-threatening diseases,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon T. Arnold. “There are some children who cannot be vaccinated for either medical reasons or they are still too young, so it is important parents continue to have their children vaccinated. I encourage parents to check with their physician or local health department about what vaccines are needed and what immunizations their child has already received.”  

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, has again become a problem across the country and right here in Illinois with nearly 1,000 cases reported during 2010 compared to fewer than 700 cases reported in 2009.? ?Alarmingly, there have been 185 cases of measles reported in the United States in 2011 compared to 30 cases for the same time period reported in 2010. This is the highest reported number in over a decade. Of the total cases of measles this year, 160 (86 percent) were unvaccinated or had undocumented vaccination status. Illinois is one of the 26 states that have reported measles cases this year.

?“Having children vaccinated is a critical public health issue as it impacts not only them, but also the entire population,” said Lisa Kritz, associate director, Illinois Maternal & Child Health Coalition. “Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, whooping cough and meningitis result in doctor visits, hospitalizations, ongoing health issues and even premature deaths. But, these diseases are easily prevented by staying up-to-date with your child’s immunizations.”

?A ninety percent vaccination rate is the public health standard set by the CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to a recent analysis by the Chicago Tribune, 200 Illinois schools are below recommended vaccination levels. The number of schools below the recommended level for polio has risen from 27 in 2003 to 122 in 2011, and schools below the level for measles vaccinations grew from 31 to 124 during the same time period.

?“Recent reports highlighting that some schools in Illinois currently have immunization rates of less than 60 percent for vaccine preventable diseases threatens the herd immunity and overall protection levels against harmful diseases for entire communities,” said Dr. Dennis Vickers, MD, MPH, FAAP, President of Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics. “Parents and healthcare providers must continue to remain vigilant and ensure Illinois school children are fully immunized, protecting not only their health and well being, but that of the community as a whole.”  

Health officials recommend immunizations start well before a child reaches school age, as the majority of immunizations are recommended to begin as early as infancy.  However, it is never too late to get up-to-date with vaccines, and health care providers will work with parents to make sure that children are adequately protected and school-ready. ? ?ICAAP and IMCHC encourage families to identify a primary care physician or nearby clinic or health center where they can seek year-round preventive care and routine health advice and treatment that goes beyond immunization services. ? ?Parents and guardians should contact their child’s school or county health department for the most up-to-date immunization and health exam requirements. For questions about back-to-school vaccinations, check with your health care provider or call your county health department.