Opinion America Needs A Systematic Plan For Immunizations

All children should be immunized at regular health care visits, beginning at birth and continuing to age 6.

By immunizing, we can safeguard our children against the potentially devastating effects of 12 vaccine-preventable diseases. No child should ever have to endure the effects of these diseases simply because he or she was not vaccinated on time. The catastrophic effects of childhood diseases can lead to lifelong illness or death.

The United States has experienced outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases over the past several years — diseases that imperil our children’s health and futures. The primary cause for the 1989-1991 outbreak of measles and the resurgence of other vaccine preventable diseases has not been the failure of the vaccine to protect, but rather the failure of the health care system to deliver the vaccines to the children at the recommended ages.

Parents must not wait until their children enter school to immunize them. Babies are more likely to have complications or die from vaccine-preventable diseases than older children. Immunization is the most cost-effective preventive health measure.

Immunization levels in many parts of the country remain dangerously low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in some parts of the country, the percentage of children who are fully immunized by age 2 is as low as 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}.

Many of us grew up taking for granted that we could count on our family doctor to mend our broken bones, heal our wounds, cure our colds, and tell our parents if we had a problem that would affect our ability to do well in school. Parents often assume that our children continue to be under the same type of watchful eye. However, too many of our nation’s children do not have basic medical care. For them, a physician has become a luxury, and their contact with the medical system is irregular at best.

The numbers of children living in poverty are staggering, and these numbers increase daily. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, approximately 10 million children are uninsured, and millions of others have insurance that is inadequate, failing to cover essential services. Every child in America needs a ‘medical home,’ a place where she or he can receive consistent, ongoing health care.

It has been said that “if we can count the children, we can reach them. If we can reach them, we can immunize them.” In order to provide vaccinations, track children’s vaccination status, contact patients who do not appear for follow-up visits, and offer other preventive services, a computer tracking system must be implemented.

The measles outbreaks from 1989 to 1991 were partly due to the fact that in 1985 our nation stopped keeping track of children’s immunization status. The U.S. was not aware that many of our nation’s children were not immunized at the appropriate times, and that few were fully immunized by age two.

Every day more than 11,000 babies are born. Unless we can find ways to systematically reach infants and young children, we are unlikely to succeed in guaranteeing that they will be immunized on time. Unless we continue to reach and vaccinate children, we are likely to experience more outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the future.

Amy Pisani, M.D. is executive director of Every Child by Two, an 11-year-old, non-profit organization that strives to raise awareness of the need for timely immunization and to establish a systematic method to ensure the immunization of all of America’s children by age 2.