Health officials stress importance of immunizing children

Apr 23 2013 - 9:37pm

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OGDEN -- So far, there have been 181 cases of whooping cough in Utah this year, with 75 of those cases occurring just last week.

Last year, more than 41,000 cases were reported nationwide, including 18 deaths.

The majority of deaths occurred in infants younger than three months of age.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a preventable disease through vaccination. This week marks the 19th annual Infant Immunization Week, and health care providers want to remind parents to start their children off on a healthy path.

"As people come in for their appointments, we are counseling and giving education on all available vaccines for the patient and also members of their family," said Weber-Morgan Health Department immunization program manager Michelle Singleton. "We are offering to look up the records for every member of their family and help them to determine if anyone in their family is in need of immunizations."

Children typically begin receiving immunizations right after birth, beginning with the hepatitis B vaccine, and continue throughout childhood. Dr. Mindy Boehm, a pediatrician at Ogden Clinic, said vaccines are safe.

"They are carefully studied and tested before they are administered to patients," she said. "Every vaccine has a chance of side effects, mostly minor, but the benefits greatly outweigh the risks."

The CDC website also includes a statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ensuring the safety, effectiveness and availability of vaccines for the nation. Before a vaccine is approved by the FDA for use by the public, results of studies on safety are evaluated by physicians and scientists.

"I think immunizations are very important to the health and well-being of a child," Boehm said. "Thanks to vaccinations, as a physician I have never had to take care of polio or tetanus. I also used to handle a lot of meningitis, but with today's vaccines, cases of meningitis have drastically declined."

Some of the consequences of not being vaccinated include the upswing in whooping cough. Last week, Boehm said she saw a teenager with chicken pox who had never been immunized. The chicken pox vaccine is a regular part of the vaccine regimen today.

Singleton said everyone should stay current on their vaccinations so they will help protect infants, whose immune systems are still fragile, as well as the elderly.

"It's called cocooning," she said. "An infant's cocoon of protection should include family members. It should also include caregivers, such as baby sitters. We can cocoon high-risk adults and school-aged children by promoting immunizations at their work sites and schools, as well as their families and caregivers."

And while most parents tend to be vigilant about getting their young children vaccinated, Singleton said, they begin to overlook many vaccinations as the child reaches the ages between 12 and 18, a time when the young people should be getting booster shots and new vaccines, such as Gardasil.

"Gardasil is an important vaccine for both boys and girls," Boehm said. "The vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer in females if it is given before exposure to the virus."

It can also protect boys and girls against some other cancers and genital warts. The vaccine is for everyone, not just those who are sexually active.

Kids should receive it at age 11 or 12 but can get it as early as age 9.

The meningitis vaccine is also available for children 11 to 12 years old, with a recommended booster at ages 16 to 18.

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis, which is extremely deadly and can kill a person almost overnight, include severe headache and extreme stiffness of the neck, high fever, nausea, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness and difficulty waking up. Some people can develop a rash or experience seizures.

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