By Brenda Koch for The Gazette
Why should I vaccinate my child? Does this disease still exist?
These frequently asked questions indicate that vaccines are in some ways victims of their own success. When vaccines work, nothing happens. This, combined with the attention given to rare adverse events, leads some people to believe that vaccines do more harm than good. In fact, since the introduction of vaccines, disease rates have decreased by up to 100% for many vaccine-preventable diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella and polio.
Thanks to the fact that most parents vaccinate early and on time, their children can build up immunity before they are exposed to life-threatening diseases.
Vaccines protect not only your child but also others around them who are at increased risk due to immune deficiency. Immunocompromised children may not be able to receive live vaccines (weakened forms of the disease) such as MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and varicella (chickenpox).
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You may be considering postponing vaccinations for your child or following an alternative vaccination schedule. Unfortunately, clusters of vaccination refusals and delays in recent years have contributed to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. Delaying vaccines increases risk, makes individuals vulnerable to disease, and increases the likelihood that the vaccine series will not be completed.
Vaccines have proven to be safe and effective. The number of vaccine components has decreased significantly over the years. The number of vaccine antigens fell from around 3,217 in 1960 to 181 in 2014.
Previously, children up to 2 years of age received up to 27 shots and up to 6 shots at a single visit. With the availability of combination vaccines such as Dtap, IPV, and Hep B, healthcare providers can reduce the number of injections. Combination vaccines significantly reduce the number of vaccinations your child will receive in the first year of life.
In 2013, Montana ranked last nationwide for children up to 35 months of age being up to date on all routinely recommended vaccines. Valiant steps were taken over the next few years to increase these vaccination rates.
Unfortunately, these coverage rates have fallen again during the COVID-19 pandemic. Office visits have been postponed as families chose to stay at home and providers struggled to retain necessary staff. Many parents rely on their providers to let them know when their child is due. Many offices were unable to send out regular reminders due to staff shortages.
I strongly encourage parents to contact their children’s healthcare providers to inquire about the completeness of their immunization records. Many children can catch up on vaccinations in just one or two visits. For most vaccines, missed vaccination does not mean that the series must be restarted; the vaccination series can be continued after the missed dose(s) have been administered.
Concerned about the cost of vaccinations? Thanks to federally funded childhood vaccines, the RiverStone Health Immunization Clinic and most providers are able to offer low-cost or free vaccines to children without vaccine insurance. This program covers children from birth to age 18 and all routinely recommended vaccines.
Call RiverStone Health Immunization Clinic at 406-247-3382 to schedule an appointment.
Brenda Koch, program manager for immunization services at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-247-3382.