April 19-26 is National Infant Immunization Week, an annual observance to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and to celebrate the achievements of immunization programs and their partners in promoting healthy communities.
“Over the past 25 years, the benefits of vaccines have become clear,” explains Michael Heniser, D.O., a physician offering primary care and obstetrical services at MDI Hospital’s Community Health Center. “Diseases that were once associated with significant illness and in some cases death, have been almost completely eliminated,” adds Dr. Heniser.
Wild strain polio, the naturally circulating form of polio, has been eliminated from the western hemisphere. In fact, no case of wild polio has been reported in the US since 1979.
Between 1987 and 2000, with the development of the HiB (Haemeophilus influenza B) vaccine, the number of invasive cases have declined by greater than 99%. HiB was responsible for causing meningitis (infection of the membranes that surround the brain) and a life-threatening infection called epiglottitis (infection of the area of the throat that covers and protects the voice box and trachea during swallowing).
Current recommended vaccines by the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians include childhood diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (chicken pox), hepatitis A and B, pneumococcal, Haemophilus influenza B, and meningococcal.
Most of the above vaccines are required for school entry, but specific requirements vary from state to state. Many of them are available in combination to reduce the number of inoculations.
Newer developments in vaccines include Gardasil, a vaccination designed to prevent infection with the most invasive strains of human papilloma virus, known to be associated with cervical cancer in women.
Since July 2000, all children in the United States have had access to thimerosal-free vaccines, though no causal relationship has ever been established to link thimerosal (a mercury-containing preservative) with the development of autism or other neurological disability.
“This type of unsubstantiated publicity often leads parents of children at age for routine immunization to forego these life-saving vaccinations,” states Dr. Heniser. “The lack of vaccination leaves these children vulnerable to significant illness from outbreaks of infectious disease such as measles, pertussis, or mumps, as was witnessed here in Maine in late 2007,” he adds.
There are no legally mandated vaccinations for adults, except for persons entering military service. But certain immunizations are recommended for adults, depending on age, occupation, and other circumstances.
Current recommendations suggest a tetanus booster for adults every 10 years as well as an annual influenza immunization. Pneumonia vaccination is currently suggested for all seniors 65 and over, and earlier for those with specific chronic conditions.
“Prevention of disease through immunization is essential for both patient health and control of medical costs,” says Dr. Heniser. “Parents of children and adults alike should contact their primary health provider to make sure they are up to date on their immunizations.”
For information online, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines. For an appointment with Dr. Heniser, call the Community Health Center in Southwest Harbor at 244—5630.