The last week of April every year is designated National Infant Immunization Week. We are deluged with many special weeks and even months – did you know that April is Mathematics Awareness Month, or that the second week of April is celebrated as National Library Week, or that September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Leaving distractions aside, the importance of childhood immunizations cannot be discounted or treated lightly. Millions of parents are, thankfully, blissfully unaware of the devastating impact a vaccine-preventable disease can have on a child and his or her family. This is due entirely to the consistent efforts made by physicians and those in public health to inform parents of the importance and safety of immunizations. Keeping track of your pediatric patients’ vaccination status and making sure they stay updated with all their shots is vital.
There are a total of 16 vaccine-preventable diseases against which children can be immunized. Recommendations for dosing intervals change periodically, and the most up-to-date information can be found through the CDC website, available through this link: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/default.htm.
As we all know, vaccines are unfortunately the source of some controversy, due to a mistaken belief that they may increase the risk of autism. If you Google “vaccines and autism,” you get over six million hits. If you Google “vaccines and preventable childhood diseases,” you get less than 600,000 hits. Hmmm. A 2011 Harris poll found that 48% of Americans think vaccines either do or might increase the risk of autism. The mythology about a possible vaccine-autism link has been scrutinized in depth, and no link has ever been found. Autism is usually diagnosed in childhood, a time of life when kids are getting their vaccines. This coincidence of timing provides fertile ground for those who advocate that vaccines cause autism.
Educating skeptical parents can be frustrating and time-consuming for clinicians, but it is an important part of our job. The CDC has a great site with tips for how clinicians can effectively have this discussion with parents: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/spec-grps/hcp/conversations.htm.
So, while we at PHC don’t recommend that you talk like a pirate every September 19 (though we also will not discourage such behavior), we do encourage you to celebrate National Infant Immunization Week. Actually, you can celebrate it all year long. While we’re at it, mathematics and libraries are also cool things to acknowledge.
Richard Fleming, MD