Earlier this month, about 30,000 of our county’s population returned to school. Whether starting kindergarten, returning for their seventh grade year, or heading off to college, there is a lot that goes into preparing a student to start school. School supplies, new shoes, uniforms, new technology, new backpacks and lunchboxes, dorm room fixtures… the list goes on and on. On that list sometimes is a visit to your pediatrician for an update to your child’s immunizations. It should be on all our lists, whether we have small children, grown children or no children.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month. And according to the National Public Health Information Coalition, vaccines are recommended for all people across the lifespan: babies and pregnant women; children, pre-teens and teens; college-aged young adults; and adults. Many adults don’t realize they still need specific vaccines, especially if they are in certain lines of work and with certain chronic diseases. For instance, immunization is especially important for adults 60 years of age and older, and for those who have a chronic condition such as asthma, COPD, diabetes or heart disease. Immunization is also important for anyone who is in close contact with the very young, the very old, people with weakened immune systems and those who cannot be vaccinated.
Vaccines are available for pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, shingles, and influenza (the flue) — some common but preventable diseases that can affect any of us regardless of your age or circumstances. You might remember the public health campaign in 2012 with Jennifer Lopez for pertussis (whooping cough). That was a result of a 60-year, record-high number of 48,000 reported cases that lead to 20 deaths — all of which were preventable.
Immunizations are one of those funny things. They are designed to prevent disease and more specifically prevent deaths from these diseases. They are the advancement of science and medicine played out in a tiny little needle. However, like many such advancements, they have been the source of some controversy. Questions like Why? What if? When? The best person to ask those questions is your doctor.
The pediatric nurse that comes in with the tray of needles is a special kind of person, as most nurses are. Kids look at her with fear and dread. And as a parent, you don’t like her much either — you know logically that the shot your child is about to get is for his or her best health and really won’t hurt that much, but I still cringe at the sight of that nurse and her tray. It is an empathetic cringe for what is about to happen. And it doesn’t matter if your baby is three or 18, you still cringe.
But do yourself and your family a favor — Celebrate National Immunization Awareness Month and make sure everyone is up to date on their immunizations. Talk to your healthcare provider or call the Newton County Health Department. It might mean a cringe-worthy trip to the doctor or your local pharmacy, but it will be worth it.
Because immunizations aren’t just for children anymore.
Hosanna Fletcher has lived in Newton County since 2005. With a Masters in Public Health and another in Sociology, she has worked on a variety of community development projects and has led training sessions for Lay Health Advisors, conducted and evaluated health risk assessments, and designed and implemented employee wellness programs. Hosanna and her husband Kevin, a Newton County native, have been married for 15 years come this October. They have two wonderful children — Miranda, 11, and Thomas, 3.