COMMENTARY: Stay on schedule with vaccinations

As part of National Immunizations Awareness Month this August, the Division of Public Health is reminding Delawareans to make sure they are up to date on all recommended vaccinations. With the new school year fast approaching, now is the time for parents and caregivers to talk to their doctor and be sure their school-aged children are up to date, as well.

Immunizations are important at all ages, and especially for children. When people are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk of catching vaccine-preventable diseases, which can be spread to others, including infants, who may be too young to be fully vaccinated, and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer or other health conditions. Vaccination not only protects the individual vaccinated, but also the rest of their family and the community as a whole.

Dr. Karyl Rattay

Many people know that vaccines including diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella, Hepatitis B, polio and varicella are required to enter kindergarten, but most don’t know that a Tdap booster and the meningococcal vaccine are required for entry to ninth grade. The HPV vaccine series is also strongly recommended for all children starting at 9 years of age. HPV is short for human papillomavirus, which is a group of more than 150 related viruses. Some HPV types can lead to cancer, and the HPV vaccine can prevent infection with the types of HPV that most commonly cause the disease. Vaccination requirements for Delaware school students can be found on the Department of Education website at: https://www.doe.k12.de.us/Page/2871.

The DPH Immunization Program performs a school immunization survey each year to assess the vaccination coverage for children attending school in Delaware. The survey helps to identify gaps in coverage and trends in vaccine exemptions, and results are shared with the Delaware Department of Education. The 2017 survey covered 1,053 students and completion rates reported were as follows:

• Four or more doses of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine: 97.1 percent.

• Coverage of four doses of Polio vaccine: 97.2 percent

• Three doses of hepatitis B vaccine: 97.8 percent

• Two doses of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine: 96.4 percent

• One dose of Varicella vaccine: 96.2 percent

These rates surpass the Healthy People 2020 target of 90 percent for each vaccine series. At the 2018 National Immunization Conference, Delaware also was recognized for outstanding progress toward the Healthy People 2020 targets for influenza vaccination among children 6 months to 17 years during the 2016-2017 influenza season.

The month focuses on four key populations: pregnant women; babies and young children; pre-teens and teens; and adults.

During pregnancy, parents-to-be often think about baby names, nursery colors and prenatal vitamins, but expectant mothers also should think about protecting themselves and their baby from vaccine-preventable infections. It is important to get the flu vaccine because changes in the mother’s immune, heart and lung functions during pregnancy make her more likely to get seriously ill from the flu. Getting the Tdap vaccine with each pregnancy ensures newborns are protected from diseases such as whooping cough when they are still too young to be vaccinated.

Today’s childhood vaccines protect against serious and potentially life-threatening diseases, including meningitis, mumps, cancer (HPV vaccine), polio, measles, whooping cough and chickenpox.

In addition, thousands of adults in the U.S. become ill from infectious diseases each year. Many are hospitalized and some even die from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines. The vaccines that adults need are determined by such factors as age, lifestyle, underlying health conditions, locations of travel and previous vaccinations.

All Delawareans should talk to their health care professionals to make sure they are up to date on vaccines recommended for them. Your children may not be able to return to school if they have not received certain required vaccines.

Parents can find out more about the recommended immunization schedule at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents. For more information on the DPH Immunization Program, visit http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dph/dpc/immunize.html.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Karyl Rattay is the director of the state’s Division of Public Health.

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