National Infant Immunization Week: The Importance of Vaccines in the Context of COVID-19

April 28, 2020

Photo: Getty Images

This week, we celebrate National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW). It is a week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observes each year to highlight the importance of vaccinating children to protect them against vaccine-preventable diseases. Most years, we commemorate the week with special events and activities; however, this year feels much different in the context of a global pandemic, COVID-19.

COVID-19 has changed everything. It’s disrupted our work, grocery shopping, activities and family life. It’s altered our perception of what we really need to survive and of what’s important to us. No single aspect of our prior existence has been left untouched by this pandemic.

Prior to the arrival of this novel coronavirus, vaccines were a source of ambivalence for many parents and individuals. While the majority of parents in the U.S. continue to vaccinate their children, many parents are hesitant to do so and require education and reassurance from their provider before vaccinating. Some parents also end up choosing to delay or refuse some or all vaccines.

But, today, in the context of COVID-19, the significance and privilege of preventive medicine, including vaccines, has never been more valued. We are experiencing what life without a vaccine for a deadly infectious disease is like. Not to mention the lack of a prophylactic or therapeutic treatment. This is life without the privilege of modern medicine. And it’s debilitated us.

Every discussion related to our return to normalcy now centers on a COVID-19 vaccine. We are desperate for the very measure we previously thought we had the luxury of rejecting. Never before, in our lifetime, have we experienced so great a reckoning in how we view modern medicine and in how fortunate we are to have an arsenal of vaccines, as well as many other preventive measures, at our disposal.

So where does that leave us in regard to vaccines during this commemorative week?

As a wife and mother to three young children, a daughter of two high-risk parents and sister of two individuals with autoimmune disorders, it leaves me hoping and praying that a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine will arrive sooner rather than later. I am also profoundly grateful for the vaccines we do have – the privilege to protect myself, my children and family against a number of other devastating diseases.

Collectively, this experience should leave us tremendously appreciative of the role vaccines have played in preventing widespread disease in our communities. May it empower us to be proactive, rather than passive, in our efforts to silence misinformation related to vaccines. May it motivate us to support and rally behind the scientific community at every opportunity, including now when misinformation related to COVID-19 abounds. The time is now for our voices to collectively drown out the small but vocal anti-vaccine and anti-science communities as we embrace our newfound perspective and renewed appreciation for the importance of vaccines.

Post by:

Rachel M. Cunningham, MPH