Krissy Thiel is getting used to motherhood as 3-week old Siara begins to meet milestones of cooing and gurgling. A first-time mom at just 22, Thiel is anxious about doing all the right things to ensure a healthy foundation for her new baby.
Most new couples spend ample time researching baby topics concerning healthy prenatal and postnatal care to help them raise their baby with objective decision-making. Certain topics, like whether to breast or formula feed, when to start solid foods and whether to immunize are popular subjects searched by parents on the Internet.
Thiel admitted that she Googles a lot.
She also expressed concern that she is anxious about childhood vaccinations, which Siara will begin receiving in about a month. But her decision to immunize comes from a belief that it is the best decision to keep her baby healthy. "Aren't they supposed to have shots?" she asked. "Isn't it what we're supposed to do?"
According to public health experts, the answer to Thiel's question is yes. Increasingly, new parents are delaying or refusing vaccinations for their children in light of claims that they are unnecessary or unsafe.
In fact, a study from the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research earlier this year determined that 49 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 24 do not receive all the recommended vaccines or do not get vaccinated at all.
"It's reasonable to assume that if you're significantly undervaccinated, you're at risk for vaccine-preventable disease," said Jason Glanz, a senior scientist at Kaiser Permanente and lead author of the study. "The decision not to vaccinate puts them at risk for pertussis, chicken pox and more. Also vaccine preventable diseases cluster in regions where there are higher rates of vaccine refusal."
Why should parents have their children vaccinated? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diseases like polio and diphtheria are becoming increasingly rare in the U.S. mainly because of vaccinations. To ensure those diseases do not return, vaccinations must be administered to the population until they are eliminated altogether.
"Even if there are only a few cases of disease today, if we take away the protection given by vaccination, more and more people will be infected and will spread disease to others. Soon we will undo the progress we have made over the years," as noted by the CDC.
An example of that occurred in Japan in the late 70s when the vaccination rate dropped from 80 percent to 10 percent after a rumor circulated that they were no longer needed or considered safe. Before the drop, only 393 cases of pertussis were reported with zero deaths. After the drop, 13,000 cases of whooping cough were reported, of which 41 resulted in death.
Grace Gifford, RN, of the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County, discussed the basics of immunizations for children, which are administered free of charge through the Vaccines for Children Program at the Health Department.
"As a nurse, I am of course going to say everyone should be immunized," she said. "Truth be told, if a parent starts their child's vaccines at birth and follows the recommended schedule, they will be up to date prior to kindergarten."
Additional vaccines are given prior to seventh grade. "Once you complete the 11-year-old vaccination series, you are good to go," Gifford said.
Pregnant mothers and household members should receive a recent TDAP prior to giving birth to protect the unborn child against pertussis for the first two months of age because vaccine administration doesn't start until two months of age.
Gifford understands the anxiety felt by new parents prior to administering their child's immunization series. To offset that fear, parents are given a Vaccine Information Sheet for each vaccine recommended.
"The sheet comes from the Center for Disease Control and outlines why you should get vaccinated, what the vaccination protects against, who should receive it and when, the risks of getting the vaccine and what to do if a reaction occurs," Gifford said. Also included is where to go for more information.
For babies like Siara, Gifford said it is usually the parents who suffer the most difficulty. "Making sure parents are provided with proper vaccine information and that all of their concerns are addressed make for a happier mom."
Beginning as early as two months of age, recommended immunizations include diptheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, Haemophilus Influenzae Type b, hepatitis B, hepatitis A and polio.
If a child misses a series, it can be resumed and your health care provider will customize a catch-up schedule.
"We don't vaccinate just to protect our children," explained the CDC. "We also vaccinate to protect our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Our grandchildren don't have to get smallpox shots anymore because the disease no longer exists."
For more information about childhood vaccinations, visit Hernando Health.org.
Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at dame firstname.lastname@example.org