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COLUMN: Vaccines make lifelong impacts on health of children

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By SARAH STELZER M.D., DAWN HAUT M.D. and CHARLENE GRAVES M.D.
Guest Columnists

Parents invest a lot of money and time each year ensuring their infants have the best tools to grow, learn and become strong and successful adults. Yet almost 30 percent of parents have not given their child one of the most important tools of them all to ensure a long, healthy and happy life: their complete set of immunizations.

This National Infant Immunization Week provides us with another sad reminder that Indiana ranks in the bottom half of all states for infant vaccinations, a distinction we have held for the better part of 10 years. But, with your help, it is our goal to make this year our last in the bottom.

Vaccines are among the most successful public health measures available for preventing childhood disease and death. Due to advances in medical science, your child can be protected against more diseases than ever before with vaccinations that are the safest and most effective in the history of the United States. Vaccines are only certified for use after a long and careful review by scientists, doctors and health-care professionals. But ultimately immunization is a shared responsibility. Families, health-care professionals and public-health officials must work together to help protect our infants.

Because of the success of these vaccines in preventing disease, new parents may not have heard of some of the serious diseases they prevent. However, children in the United States still get vaccine-preventable diseases each year. In fact, the nation has seen resurgences of measles and whooping cough over the past few years. In 2010, America had more than 21,000 cases of whooping cough reported and 26 deaths, with 744 of those cases reported in Indiana alone. Just last month, an epidemic was declared in the state of Washington when an outbreak of whooping cough led to more than 600 reported cases.

It is more important than ever to follow the recommended immunization schedule to protect infants and children by providing immunity early in life, before they are exposed to these potentially life-threatening diseases and when they are most vulnerable.

Further, some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities and can take a financial toll on a new family. In contrast, getting vaccinated against these diseases is a good investment and is often covered through your insurance provider.

The federal government also offers the Vaccines for Children Program to provide vaccines at no cost to children from low-income families to ensure all children have equal access to these vital childhood health measures.

Help us end Indiana’s poor track record this National Infant Immunization Week and give your child the most important protection to start a healthy, successful life. Consult with your child's health-care provider to ensure that they are up to date on all of their immunizations to make a lifelong positive impact on your child.

Stelzner, Haut and Graves represent the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sarah Strawbridge from the Indiana Immunization Coalition wrote this for Indiana newspapers.