World Immunization Week is the last week of April, and this year even more than in years past, it is important to address myths surrounding immunizations.
There are 14 childhood diseases children are vaccinated against, and most of these diseases are spread through the air or with direct contact. Despite the availability of vaccinations against these diseases, this year has seen a rise in two common childhood diseases: measles and pertussis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there has been a resurgence of measles cases — while there were 372 total measles cases in the United States for 2018, there have already been 387 cases reported from January 1 to March 28, 2019. The CDC also reported 13,439 cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough, in 2018. More than 50 percent of those cases were among preteens and adults, ages 11 and older.
Measles is an acute respiratory viral illness. Children often present with high fever, malaise, cough, a stuffy runny nose, inflamed red eyes and a rash that looks like flat red areas with small bumps that cover their body from head to toe. The rash typically appears 14 days after the person is exposed, and patients are contagious 4 days before to 4 days after rash appears. This means patients can be contagious before anyone is aware they are sick, potentially increasing the likelihood of infecting others.
Pertussis is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. Children with pertussis typically present with an uncontrollable cough and difficulty breathing. They will occasionally cough until they turn blue.
Both diseases are life threatening, and statistics show that many of the children contracting these diseases in recent years have been unvaccinated.
One way to prevent childhood diseases is by having your child immunized. These vaccinations boost and build the child’s immunity, a process that may require multiple vaccines. It is also important to know that vaccines are carefully tested and cause minimal side effects. Occasionally children may experience mild redness or swelling at injection site, however these minimal side effects are much better than getting the actual disease. Severe allergic reactions may occur, but this is highly unusual.
Vaccinating healthy children against these preventable diseases also protects those who cannot be vaccinated. Each vaccine has its own guidelines, according to the CDC, and young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, individuals with weakened immune systems and individuals with life-threatening allergies are among those who may have to wait for or forego a vaccine. When everyone around them is vaccinated, however, the likelihood they will get a disease is greatly reduced. This is why it is important to do your part and stay up to date on your vaccinations.
The truth is vaccines are safe, and they save lives, and statements to the contrary often come from non-reputable sources or research that has been disproven. It is OK to have questions about immunizations and your child’s health, however, it is important to use reputable resources, such as the CDC website, when searching for information about immunizations. With all the myths on internet and social media, I encourage people to have a discussion with their health care provider. As a certified pediatric primary care nurse practitioner, I would rather address parents’ questions head-on and help them see the importance of immunizations than have them choose to not vaccinate their children and put their child’s health, and the health of other children and adults, at risk.
Sherita Etheridge, MSN, CRNP, CPNP-PC, is a full-time instructor for the UAB School of Nursing. She is a certified pediatric primary care nurse practitioner with 15 years of pediatric nursing experience.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/default.htm
American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/immunizations/Pages/Immunizations-home.aspx