Immunizations: A national health success story

4/3/2017 by Dr. Robert M. Jacobson and Jennifer L. Brickley, RN

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Sometimes success can be its own worst enemy. When something works so well to keep problems away, we start taking it for granted. 

That's often the case for vaccines. Our routine infant and childhood vaccines are working so well that parents and others often take their success for granted. They may not realize they still have to work to make sure their children get all their vaccines - and on time. 

While vaccines have reduced dramatically the occurrence in infants and children of 14 diseases preventable by vaccines, the germs that cause those diseases are still around. For some diseases, like pertussis (whooping cough), most adolescents and adults no longer are immune. They easily can spread this disease to others. We have cases every year in our area. And infants less than three months old can easily die from pertussis. 

Influenza's another example of a disease that targets infants and children under two. The flu results in young children being admitted to the hospital as often as those 65 years and older. And while we have a vaccine against the flu, most members of our community do not get the vaccine each season the way they should. 

Some vaccines protect us from diseases that exist naturally in our environment. With tetanus (lockjaw), it doesn't matter how many around our children are protected. The germs that cause tetanus are everywhere. Hepatitis B is another example. Of cases in the U.S., 20% or more are the result of apparent environmental exposure. 

For other diseases, cases are rare and usually far away. But we live in a global community where international travel occurs all the time - with our neighbors and co-workers, with the students in our community and with patients and their families traveling to Mayo Clinic. In today's world, every vaccine-preventable disease - no matter how strange and rare - is just a plane ride away. 

That's why vaccinating children on time is the best way to protect them against 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases before their second birthday. And to ensure that your own vaccinations are up to date. 

Dr. Robert M. Jacobson is a primary care pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and is the medical director of the ECH and Southeast Minnesota Region Immunization Programs. 

Jennifer L. Brickley is a registered nurse in ECH and is the program coordinator of the ECH Immunization Program.