When the COVID-19 national emergency was declared in March 2020, many families dutifully followed stay-at-home orders. However, this led to a near immediate and notable decrease in routine childhood vaccinations, per the CDC. Two years later, the 2022 National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) is focusing on ensuring families get back on track (and stay on track) with their children’s well-child checkups and recommended vaccinations.
What Is National Infant Immunization Week?
Part of World Immunization Week (April 23–30, 2022), NIIW is a yearly observance highlighting the positive impact of on-time vaccination on infants and young children. Since 1994, NIIW has strived to showcase the major achievements of immunization programs and their partners in protecting children and our communities from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).
NIIW encourages healthcare professionals and public health organizations to focus on communication strategies to ensure parents and caregivers are provided with evidence-based information about vaccines and the dangers of VPDs, particularly to children under two. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics stress the importance of children staying on track with routine vaccinations since delays can place everyone at increased risk for outbreaks of VPDs.
Vaccines Save Lives
By preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases, vaccines have served as some of the most successful and cost-effective public health tools for preventing illness and death. Every day, children are exposed to thousands of germs through the air they breathe and what they put in their mouths. Though babies are born with robust immune systems, there are some deadly diseases they are not equipped to handle. Vaccines are needed to protect them against those scary diseases.
The CDC found that children born from 1994-to 2018 will have been spared 419 million illnesses, 8 million hospitalizations, and 936,000 early deaths over their lifetimes due to routine childhood immunization. Vaccines also provide economic benefits by saving costs on misspent time and resources visiting doctors and preventing disruptions in children’s developmental and academic progress.
Per 2019 data from the CDC, one in ten children are not being vaccinated. In the last 20 years, the U.S. has seen a resurgence in Measles, Mumps, and Pertussis cases, all of which are vaccine-preventable. A summary of those life-saving vaccines is below:
The MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) Vaccine
Entails two doses: the first at 12-15 months, the second at 4-6 years; infants 6 -11 months should have one dose before traveling abroad.
- Measles is a highly contagious disease spread through coughing, sneezing, and lingering germs that is particularly dangerous in babies and young children. Severe cases can lead to pneumonia, deafness, brain damage, and death. Symptoms include a rash of tiny red spots, red eyes, ear infection, coughing, runny nose, and diarrhea. Measles circulates in many parts of the world and has even seen a resurgence domestically due to recent increases in unvaccinated people and international travelers.
- Rubella (German Measles) infection includes fever, rash, and swollen glands. Pregnant women with rubella are at greater risk of miscarriage and birth defects like loss of sight or hearing and heart problems.
- Before the MMR vaccine, mumps was one of the most common causes of meningitis and deafness in childhood. Mumps can also lead to encephalitis in some children. Symptoms include fever, headaches, swollen glands under the ears or jaw, and muscle aches. Mumps is spread much like measles, with cases in the U.S. ranging from a couple hundred to a couple thousand per year.
The DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, & Acellular Pertussis) Vaccine
Entails five doses, one each at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, & 4-6 years. Pregnant women should get the DTaP vaccine during each pregnancy to help protect their newborns.
- Pertussis or “whooping cough” is a highly contagious disease that is particularly dangerous for newborns and babies, leading to hospitalization of about half of babies under one who get infected. There are between 10,000 and 50,000 cases each year in the U.S. Whooping cough can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, apnea, convulsions, and death. Symptoms include low-grade fever, runny nose, and coughing fits accompanied by a high-pitched “whoop” that can lead to exhaustion and vomiting (though coughing is not always present).
- A tetanus infection, aka “lockjaw,” causes the muscles to spasm, particularly the jaw muscles. Symptoms can include headaches, fever, and muscle pain. Tetanus is spread through a cut or wound, e.g., from a rusty nail penetrating the skin or a cut exposed to contaminated soil.
Most of the recommended childhood vaccines are given by age two and include other important childhood immunizations like:
- The Pneumococcal Vaccine
- The Polio Vaccine
- The Influenza (Flu) Vaccine
- The Rotavirus Vaccine
- The Varicella (Chicken Pox) Vaccine
- And others
Vaccines Are Safe
Thanks to the immense achievements of modern medicine, today’s vaccines use just minuscule amounts of tiny molecules (antigens) to teach the immune system to recognize and fight those scary diseases. The number of antigens contained in a vaccine is only a small fraction of those babies encounter in their environment every day.
The U.S. has a long-standing vaccine safety system that ensures vaccines are as safe as possible. As new information and science become available, vaccine recommendations are monitored, updated, and improved.
The FDA is responsible for setting the rules for clinical trials that test vaccines as well as ensuring their safety, purity, and potency prior to licensing. All available vaccine data is reviewed by the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a group of medical and public health experts that includes members of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The ACIP assesses the safety and efficacy of a vaccine according to different age groups, taking into consideration the seriousness of the disease it addresses and the number of children who would otherwise be affected without the vaccine.
Once reviewed and approved by the CDC Director, ACIP’s recommendations become part of the United States’ official childhood immunization schedule.
Even after vaccines are added to the U.S. Recommended Immunization Schedule and made available to the public, the ACIP, CDC, and FDA continue to closely monitor their safety and effectiveness, making updates as needed. Various monitoring systems are used to actively collect and analyze data on side effects, which can be reported by anyone, including parents, patients, and healthcare professionals. Such systems include:
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System
- Vaccine Safety Datalink
- Post-Licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring
If monitoring reveals any new risks, vaccine recommendations may change. The current Recommended Child Immunization Schedule is on the CDC’s website.
How Can YOU Be a Part of NIIW 2022?
As public health mandates begin to relax both domestically and globally, children who are not protected by vaccines will be more vulnerable to diseases such as measles. Vaccination is a shared responsibility between families, healthcare professionals, and public health officials. Thanks to the unprecedented success of modern vaccines, most parents do choose the safe, proven protection of vaccines. This trust is built through effective communication between parents, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and community members.
The federally funded Vaccines for Children (VFC) program currently provides vaccines to approximately 50% of U.S. children aged 0–18 years who might not otherwise be vaccinated due to the inability to pay. Parents seeking vaccination for their children, or healthcare providers seeking to become a VFC awardee, can visit the CDC’s VFC page for more information.
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