January 1, 2021
Vaccines are top of mind right now, with daily news on COVID vaccines and their availability, efficacy, and eligibility timelines.
But what is a vaccine, really? The World Health Organization (WHO) explains, “Vaccines train our immune systems to create proteins that fight disease, known as ‘antibodies,’ just as would happen when we are exposed to a disease but – crucially – vaccines work without making us sick.”
What about those childhood vaccines?
Here in the U.S., we take childhood vaccines as a matter of course. However, it wasn’t so long ago that they didn’t exist. As recently as the 1950s, for example, families were grappling with polio outbreaks, keeping their children indoors and away from others, for fear of contracting the disease. The U.S. population has been polio-free since 1979, and yet worldwide it has not been eradicated.
No doubt about it: all parents want what’s best for their child. But since the advent of COVID last March, many parents are dropping the ball on scheduling well baby and childhood visits and the immunizations that are a part of them, leaving children vulnerable to preventable diseases. And this higher percentage of delayed vaccine milestones comes on top of other existing immunization parental reticence as a result of misconceptions on immunization side effects. But these delays can pose health risks to children and the population at large for those who are not vaccinated themselves for whatever reason.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is clear in their stance on vaccination schedules. AAP President, Sara “Sally” H. Goza, M.D., urges “families to schedule visits to catch up on immunizations and other vital services.” Furthermore, she says, “The COVID-19 pandemic is giving all of us a real-time education in what … vulnerability feels like. Fortunately, we have vaccines to protect children and teens against 16 different diseases.”
We’ve been hearing a lot about herd immunity lately. The WHO notes, “With herd immunity, the vast majority of a population are vaccinated, lowering the overall amount of virus able to spread in the whole population…The percentage of people who need to have antibodies in order to achieve herd immunity against a particular disease varies with each disease. (For measles immunity), about 95% of a population needs to be vaccinated. The remaining 5% will be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated. For polio, the threshold is about 80%.”
Lauren Hernandez, M.D., of Sprout Pediatrics, found that well child visits and vaccinations were down at her practice from last March. “We had a mad rush in July with parents making up their child’s well visits. I’m sure we have patients that may be behind; we haven’t yet started making those calls but will at the first of the new year. Older children are more likely to have fallen behind, there’s a quicker timeframe for the little ones (with their immunization schedules).”
Dr. Hernandez is quick to remind parents to stay on top of their child’s wellness milestones. “We are encouraging all of our families to get their vaccines on a timely basis. Herd immunity is real and protects the whole community.”
Free early childhood vaccines
For children not covered by health insurance, free vaccines are available through the Greater New Orleans Immunization Network with children’s information in the state immunization registry to ensure that they receive timely and proper immunizations.
As Dr. Hernandez tells us, “The vaccine bus is wonderful! We recommend it to our patients who’ve lost their insurance. They do walk-ins and it’s very easy.”
See gnoshots4kids.com for information and the monthly calendar for immunization locations across metro-New Orleans for kids aged six weeks to 18-years. Or call: 504.733.3268.