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Immunization Awareness Month: Protecting your child from vaccine-preventable diseases

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It’s National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) and we’re reflecting on the renewed significance vaccines have come to hold throughout the world over the past year. Over the last year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly and harshly demonstrated the damage a devastating and deadly virus could inflict on a world. Not since the days of polio, more than 60 years ago, have we collectively celebrated having a vaccine available to prevent an otherwise devastating virus.

Beginning in the early months of the pandemic, the number of annual pediatric checkups plummeted.  As a result, many children failed to receive routine pediatric care, including vaccines, leaving them vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases and other health issues. Compared to prior years, the number of pediatric vaccines administered dropped dramatically in Texas in 2020 and has yet to rebound, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Unfortunately, this trend occurred across the U.S. and the globe.

Moreover, despite the positive effect that mask wearing in schools had on reducing pediatric respiratory illness in 2020, measles continued to persist in many parts of the world, especially Brazil, India and Nigeria. Coupled with the reduced vaccination rates among children across the globe, we likely face a critical immunity gap and a potentially unavoidable measles resurgence.

The widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and resulting decrease in use of other preventative measures has led us into a new phase in this pandemic. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is running rampant. Flu season is quickly approaching. And the Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing huge surges throughout the U.S. Just at the time we regained hope in resuming normal life, Delta quickly demonstrated the unpredictability of viruses. On top of that, mask wearing – an evidence-based and effective but polarizing public health measure – is drastically down in many areas. In our state of Texas, masks are no longer required at schools leaving millions of children less than 12 years of age, for whom a vaccine is not yet approved, at risk for COVID-19.

This leaves us deeply concerned and at times, feeling helpless. What are we as parents to do?

It brings to mind a commonly used catchphrase used in the vaccine community – “Immunize. Prevent what’s preventable.” It’s a phrase that perfectly articulates the principles of vaccination and the belief that, as parents, we should prevent the things we can like measles, chickenpox and meningitis. In a non-COVID world, this phrase reminded us that while we can’t prevent childhood leukemia or juvenile diabetes or many other serious medical issues, we can prevent certain very serious infectious diseases. However, in 2021, more than a year and a half into COVID-19, this popular catchphrase takes on a deeper level of meaning.

More than ever, as parents, we must utilize the preventive measures available to us. At a time when our hospitals are struggling under the weight of this pandemic, as parents, we have a responsibility to do what we can to protect them. So, please get your child in for their annual checkup to ensure they’re healthy and up to date on their vaccines. Get your family vaccinated for the flu. And get everyone in your family who is 12 years of age or older vaccinated for COVID-19. Let’s all do our part to ensure our children remain as healthy as possible both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to schedule an appointment for your child’s vaccinations. Click here for a list of routine immunizations to protect your children from vaccine-preventable diseases.