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Immunizations important for kids and adults
Health advice
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I am always amazed at how many parents wait until after school has started before they bring their children into the health department or doctors’ offices for vaccine updates. This places children at a disadvantage and adds extra confusion to a time when they already are uncertain and bewildered. Kids have a tough enough time finding their classrooms and figuring out who their teachers are. And then there is the class time and information they miss while they’re out getting their immunizations.
National Immunization Awareness Month is promoted each August to increase awareness of immunization at a time when parents and children are preparing for the school year. This year’s campaign should remind everyone of the importance of staying up-to-date with immunizations.
Immunization is one of the most important aspects of preventive medicine and it is appropriate for people of all ages. Even with the availability of safe and effective vaccines, thousands of cases of infectious diseases are diagnosed in the United States annually — diseases that could be prevented if we stayed current with immunizations.
The reduction of infectious diseases is high on the list of public health successes. This was accomplished by the creation of specifically targeted vaccines. With the exception of safe water, no other health strategy — not even antibiotics — has had such a tremendous effect on reducing disease and improving health. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox and led to the near elimination of polio. They have dramatically reduced preventable infectious diseases so that few people now experience the devastating effects of measles, pertussis and other serious illnesses.
But measles still infects about 23 million people around the world every year and kills about 480,000 of those infected. It just takes one infected person traveling to the United States to create a problem in our communities. A single case of the disease will remain a single case if everyone around the infected person is immune, but if they aren’t, a single case can turn into an epidemic.
Disease outbreaks occur when immunization rates decline. For example, from 1989 through 1991, low rates of measles, mumps and rubella immunization among pre-school aged children resulted in a measles epidemic that caused more than 55,000 cases and 120 deaths. Chickenpox is widespread in the United States, and virtually everyone who is not vaccinated is at increased risk for contracting chickenpox in adulthood. The risk of complications and death from chickenpox can be up to 10- 20 times greater for adults than children.
To ensure that vaccines are effective and safe, each one is extensively tested by scientists before they can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Differences in the way individual immune systems react to a vaccine account for those rare occasions when people are not protected following immunization or when they experience side effects. But vaccines remain our best preventive option. Multiple changes in recent vaccine production and administration have reduced the number of side effects and resulted in safer vaccines. Constant research has resulted in more purified vaccines.
State laws require that children be immunized against certain diseases by the time they enter school. Immunization records of all children entering school are reviewed each fall and states conduct studies to validate reports from schools. Results from these studies are used to ensure high vaccination levels in the population of children enrolled in schools.
New Georgia residents may be interested in the following facts:
• Individual immunization records are not kept on file by the Georgia Immunization Program so if you need a copy of your immunization record, contact the health-care provider who administered your last immunizations and request a copy of your record from them. You might also try contacting the last school you attended to see if they still have your immunization certificate on file. If you had your immunizations administered in a public health clinic in Georgia, contact the County Health Department in the county the clinic was located in.
• Blank immunization certificates may only be obtained at health departments and physicians licensed in Georgia so you will need to take your child’s personal immunization record to a health department or Georgia physician. They can complete the form and give any required vaccines.
Immunization form 3231 is required the first time the child enters school in Georgia, regardless of the child’s age at enrollment. Once the form has been designated as “complete for school,” additional forms are not needed if the child receives a booster shot. If the form has been marked with a “date of expiration” because he or she is in the process of completing the required immunizations, then parents will need to submit a new form to the school after each shot, until the child is finally designated “complete for school.”
• Keeping copies of personal immunization records for all family members is very important since records can be lost, misfiled or the doctor could retire and records might become unattainable. There are a number of times in a person’s life when immunization records become important — registering for college (regardless of age), joining the military or traveling abroad. Take your child’s immunization record with you on every visit to the clinic or doctor’s office and be sure to get it updated when immunizations are administered.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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