August marks effort to promote immunization

ESCANABA — August is National Immunization Awareness Month and school is just around the corner. The Immunization Coordinator for Public Health, Delta and Menominee counties (PHDM) stressed the importance of immunizations and educating the public on immunizations.

Jennie Miller, the immunization coordinator for PHDM, has been providing immunization education and managing immunization clinics at Public Health for the past 13 years.

“Immunizations are important for a variety of reasons,” she said. “By receiving an immunization for a disease, a person defends him or herself against catching that disease. A vaccine is a way to build up your body’s natural immunity to a disease by creating antibodies. But the benefits do not stop there, society gains a collective immunity as more and more people become resistant to a particular disease.”

Once a collective immunization level has been established a once dangerous disease can be eradicated.

Miller said one of these dangerous diseases that have been eradicated due to vaccines is smallpox.

“Thanks to a vaccine, one of the most terrible diseases in history — smallpox — no longer exists outside the laboratory. Other diseases are close to being eradicated, such as polio,” she said.

Many illnesses can now be prevented by vaccination including polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), mumps, tetanus, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, rotavirus, varicella, pneumococcal disease and Haemophilus influenzaetype b (Hib).

Miller explained vaccines are created from the same germs or parts of them that cause the disease and they won’t make people sick because the germs in vaccine are either killed or weakened — meaning inactive vaccines or live vaccines respectively.

“Most children’s vaccines are 90 percent to 99 percent effective in preventing disease,” she said. “And if a vaccinated child does get the disease, the symptoms are usually less serious than in a child who hasn’t been vaccinated.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that for children born in the United States from 1994 to 2013, vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes.

Miller noted by protecting against diseases with immunizations, billions of dollars could be saved.

She said over the last 20 years, the CDC estimates vaccinations will save nearly $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total costs to society.

“A child with a vaccine-preventable disease can be kept out of schools or daycare facilities. A prolonged illness can take a financial toll because of lost time at work, medical bills, or long-term disability care. In comparison, getting vaccinated against these diseases is a good investment and usually covered by insurance,” Miller said.

Over the years a growing anti-vaccination movement has take hold in the United States.

Miller said many parents are refusing vaccines based on misinformation.

“It is important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider regarding any concerns that you might have,” she said. “Other good sources of information include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

As immunization coordinator, Miller also monitors and audits the offices that provide state funded vaccines, monitors community immunization rates, and assists school and child cares in their immunization reporting.

She said since 2018, PHDM administered 3,487 immunizations and flu vaccines, and there were 4,221 doses administered in 2017.

Vaccines are largely administered to children at different points of their lives, but adults are also administered vaccines.

Miller said vaccines are recommended at routine intervals in the first two years of children’s lives.

These intervals are at the ages of two months, four months, six months, 12 months and at around 15 to 18 months. She added then vaccines are routinely recommended before starting school and at 12 years of age.

“Adult vaccines can vary, for example, a Tetanus shot is recommended every 10 years and a flu shot annually while other vaccines may be recommended based on health specific risk factors,” she said.

With kids returning to school just around the corner, Miller said some advice she’d give parents would be to check with their healthcare provider or Public Health about what vaccines are recommended for their child before starting school.

“We have immunization clinic weekly at Public Health,” she said. “We have special programs for both children and adults without insurance coverage where those who qualify can receive vaccine for free or at a reduced cost. We also bill most insurances, do not charge an office visit fee, and have very short wait times for appointment.”