This week is National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), an annual observance to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and to celebrate the achievements of immunization programs in promoting healthy communities throughout the United States and here in Georgia.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is extremely dangerous for infants and yet is entirely preventable, along with more than a dozen other life-threatening diseases. Safeguarding infants requires the simplest of actions: straightforward, proven vaccination. While we cannot immediately vaccinate infants against the devastating effects of whooping cough, we can vaccinate the mother during pregnancy – an immunity that covers that precious baby too. Public Health practitioners in Georgia are following the science and, as of this year, now recommend a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine for every pregnant mother in her third trimester of each pregnancy.
“As a board-certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist, I have seen the devastating and painful effects of whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “I’ve seen mothers who fear every gasp of air might be their baby’s last. Get vaccinated, and help spread the truth on vaccines, not the diseases they prevent.”
Last year Georgia experienced well over 300 confirmed pertussis cases, 89 of which were infants, 79 of the cases in infants less than six months old. And if Georgia follows the nation, Georgia’s mothers will have passed whooping cough to almost half of those infants. According to the CDC’s National Immunization Survey, Georgia ranks 39th in the country for immunization rates. This helps explain Georgia’s 46 pertussis-related infant hospitalizations last year.
Once an infant is older, the Childhood Immunization Schedule is considered the ideal schedule for healthy children – though there may be exceptions. Each year, top disease experts and doctors from the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) work together to decide what immunizations to recommend that will best protect children from diseases. The schedule is evaluated each year based on the most recent scientific data available and changes – if needed – are announced in January.
Infants and children are exposed to germs every day in all aspects of their lives. Their immune system fights these germs – known as antigens – to keep their bodies healthy. In fact, the amount of antigens children fight every day (2,000-6,000) is much more than the antigens in any combination of vaccines on the current schedule; therefore, vaccines do not easily overwhelm children.
“No matter the excuse, the fact remains that vaccines will involve some discomfort and may cause a little redness and tenderness, but this is minimal compared to the pain, discomfort, and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent,” said Penny Conner, nurse consultant for the Immunization Office at the Georgia Department of Public Health.
So this week, during National Infant Immunization Week, DPH encourages all Georgians to talk with their healthcare providers and find out if their infants and children are up-to-date on their vaccinations, or visit their local health department.
For more information, visit http://dph.georgia.gov/immunization-section.