HCN News & Notes

August Is National Immunization Awareness Month

SPRINGFIELD — August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a time to focus on the importance for both adults and children to get recommended vaccines throughout their lives.

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of life, including your ability to attend important appointments and receive routine vaccinations. During this special month, we encourage you to talk with your doctor to ensure you and your family are protected against serious disease by getting caught up on routine vaccination,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Health.

Vaccination begins early in life, said Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of General Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “Although most of the news these days is about getting our children vaccinated against COVID-19, we cannot forget about protecting children against other vaccine-preventable illnesses.”

During the pandemic, many kids got behind on their routine vaccinations. With school approaching, this is a perfect time for parents to contact their pediatricians to see if their child needs any catch-up vaccinations.

“Our schools are our modern-day melting pot, where children from around the globe gather not only to share their cultures, but to share whatever germs they may be carrying as well,” O’Reilly said. “Vaccination is the best way to keep your child safe from things like meningitis, pneumonia, and severe neurologic infections.”

Before entering kindergarten, students must demonstrate they have had vaccines that protect them from a range of infections, including tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, pneumococcus, pertussis, and hepatitis B.

“The protection provided by those early childhood vaccines fades over time,” O’Reilly said, “so students entering seventh grade need to be given booster vaccines against tetanus and pertussis, as well as an initial vaccination against meningococcal meningitis.”

Although not required for school entry, children over age 9 are offered the HPV vaccine. After two doses of the HPV vaccine, those children are protected against certain adult cancers. The HPV vaccine is offered for everyone through age 26.

“The ability to prevent future cancers in our children through vaccination is amazing,” O’Reilly said, “and I recommend every parent of children over 9 to get their child vaccinated against HPV.”

At age 16, teens are required to get a second vaccine against meningococcal meningitis, protecting them from this disease.

Vaccine schedules can be confusing. If you have questions about whether your child is fully vaccinated, contact your pediatrician’s office or your child’s school nurse.

Immunizations are not just for children, however, and Paez noted that protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time, placing adults at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases due to their age, job, lifestyle, travel, or health conditions.

He recommends that all adults get a seasonal flu vaccine every year. Also, every adult should get a Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) or Tdap booster shot every 10 years. In addition, women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends the hepatitis B vaccine for all adults ages 19 through 59. The vaccine provides protection from hepatitis B, which can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. It is also recommended for adults age 60 years or older with risk factors for hepatitis B infection. Adults age 60 or older without any known risk factors for hepatitis B infection may get the hepatitis B vaccine.

Almost one in three people in the U.S. will develop shingles in their lifetime, and the shingles vaccine, which prevents the disease and its complication, is recommended for healthy adults 50 years and older. Also recommended is pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV15 or PCV20), which protects against serious pneumococcal disease and pneumonia in adults 65 years or older who have never received a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. If PCV15 is used, it should be followed by a dose of pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), which also protects against serious pneumococcal disease.

Talk with your doctor or other healthcare provider to find out which vaccines are recommended for you at your next medical appointment.