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Back to School To Do List: Vaccinations, Checked!

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

Back to School To Do List: Vaccinations, Checked!

August is National Immunization Awareness Month
By Isabel M. Estrada Portales

Oh, it's here! The summer months are slipping away, and now the new school year is around the corner, and the never-ending-ever-increasing supplies list for the kids is hanging on the refrigerator door. But, did you make time for the yearly physical exam and the vaccinations that need to be updated?

We have all heard the news of so many children, minority kids in particular, showing up on the school doorsteps on the first day of school just to be sent back home due to missing immunizations on their record. That's why the National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) falls in August, to serve as a reminder to parents and guardians about the importance of vaccines.

The goal of NIAM is to increase awareness about immunizations across the life span, from infants to the elderly. Immunization is one of the top national health priorities for the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Vaccines are among the twentieth century's most successful and cost-effective public health tools for preventing disease and death, according to the HHS.

Although our nation enjoys record high immunization coverage levels, and the occurrence of most vaccine-preventable diseases has been reduced by more than 99 percent, we still have a long road ahead of us.

Despite the continuous efforts of the HHS in promoting flu vaccination, each year, approximately 36,000 people - many of whom are 65 years of age and older - die of influenza complications. Unfortunately, nearly one-third of seniors citizens still do not get an annual flu vaccination, even though the vaccination is paid for under Medicare Part B, according to the HHS.

Are You Up to Date? Vaccinate!

August is the perfect time to remind family, friends, co-workers, and those in the community to catch up on their vaccinations. Parents are enrolling their children in school, students are entering college, and health care workers are preparing for the upcoming flu season.

Many communities organize health fairs and other events to provide affordable or even free vaccinations for people without health insurance, so don't let cost get in the way of a healthy life for your children and all the members of your family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children receive vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, polio and others.

Adolescents should be vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis B and meningococcal disease, and others that may have been missed earlier. Those recommended for adults include vaccines against influenza, pneumococcal disease, tetanus and diphtheria.

Are immunizations that important?

Well, let's see. Before immunizations were around, and even today in many countries around the world, people were dying of smallpox and polio… diseases we only know now by the sad memories our eldest have of them.

In fact, many of the childhood diseases that, thanks to preventive vaccinations, are now only nuisances were once the gravest events in the life of a child less than a hundred years ago.

Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, eliminated wild poliovirus in the U.S. and significantly reduced the number of cases of measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis and other diseases. But despite these efforts, today tens of thousands of people in the U.S. still die from these and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines offer safe and effective protection from infectious diseases. By staying up-to-date on the recommended vaccines, individuals can protect themselves, their families, friends and communities from serious, life-threatening infections.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines work by telling the person's immune system to prepare itself for possible exposure to disease-causing viruses or bacteria. When the person is actually exposed to the agent, the body knows exactly what to do to fight off the disease.

This not only protects the immunized person, but it often limits the bug's ability to pass from person-to-person. Thus, people who cannot be immunized because of underlying medical conditions or who fail to respond to immunization are still protected by virtue of what is referred to as community or herd immunity.

Never too old, never too young

Getting immunized is a lifelong, life-protecting community effort regardless of age, sex, race, ethnic background or country of origin. Recommended vaccinations begin soon after birth and continue throughout life. Parents and all members of the family should be aware of the vaccines that are recommended for infants, children, adolescents, adults of all ages and seniors, and make sure that they receive these immunizations.

Because children are particularly vulnerable to infection, most vaccines are given during the first five to six years of life. Other immunizations are recommended during adolescent or adult years and, for certain vaccines, booster immunization are recommended throughout life. Vaccines against certain diseases that may be encountered when traveling outside of the U.S. are recommended for travelers to specific regions of the world.

"Vaccines are a key to a healthy life for people of all ages and cultures in our community, and we are using this opportunity to remind people of the importance of being up-to-date," concludes the National Partnership for Immunization.

What's next?

  • Get your records in order. Keep a log of your vaccine medical history. If you have children, keep their records too.
  • Schedule your next visit with your health provider to make sure your vaccines are up to date. Children should get their recommended vaccines before starting school.
  • Take the vaccine quiz. To help you understand what vaccines you might need, you can complete the Adolescent and Adult Vaccine Quiz online. Then print your results and discuss them with your doctor or healthcare professional next time you make an office visit.
  • Ask 10 family, friends or neighbors if their immunizations are up to date. Print out a copy of the adult and child immunization schedules for them.
  • Learn about one of the latest vaccines that can help prevent cervical cancer. Visit:


Office of Minority Health

National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM)

Parents' Guide to Childhood Immunizations

READII: Racial & Ethnic Adult Disparities in Immunization Initiative

Childhood Immunization
NIH Institutes and Center Resources

Medicare Part B

Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program

Immunizations from NIH

The Office of Minority Health Resource Center is here to serve you. Call 1-800-444-6472.

Content Last Modified: 8/16/2011 4:30:00 PM
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