Immunization program Protects Everyone
by Shelagh Machin
One hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. Many children never lived to see their fifth birthday. Today, almost all of the same diseases still exist, but we are protected by immunization. Immunizations are not just for kids. Immunization provides effective protection against disease at every age.
Help celebrate National Immunization Awareness Week—from April 23 to April 30—by reviewing the immunization records of everyone in your family. It’s free and easy to receive all routine immunizations. Just call your local health unit or some family doctors to book an appointment.
Immunizations are important as they help your immune system recognize and quickly attack germs that could otherwise cause serious or even fatal disease. So what are the important vaccines that are offered for your family? See the list below for information about vaccines at every age.
Babies and Toddlers
To provide children with the best possible protection, immunizations are offered at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age. These shots provide protection from diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, hepatitis b, German measles (rubella), Haemophilus Influenza B (Hib), meningitis (meningococcal c), pneumococcal disease, Influenza and chickenpox (varicella). Recent outbreaks of whooping cough, mumps and measles in B.C. have highlighted the importance of keeping your family’s immunizations up to date. When immunization rates fall in your community, diseases have the opportunity to make a comeback. Apart from smallpox, which has been eradicated, all of the other vaccine-preventable diseases continue to circulate in many areas.
Childhood immunization does not provide lifelong immunity against some diseases, such as tetanus (lockjaw) and diphtheria, so booster shots are needed to stay protected.
Kindergarten-age children need a booster of tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and polio combined in one shot. If they have not received a dose of chickenpox (varicella) nor had the disease, they will also be offered that vaccine.
As children enter their pre-teen years, there is also a risk of new diseases. That’s why school-aged immunizations are also important. Public health nurses provide immunization at school to students in the following grades who have returned a completed and signed consent card.
Grade 6 students will be offered hepatitis b, meningococcal c and chickenpox vaccines (if not previously immunized or had the disease). Girls in Grade 6 will also be offered a series of two shots of human papilloma virus (HPV) with a third dose given in Grade 11.
Grade 9 students will be offered a combined tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis vaccine. Girls in Grade 9 this year are the last to be offered HPV vaccine in school. This is a series of three separate shots.
Some immunizations given in childhood, such as tetanus, need a booster to maintain protection in later life. Maintaining tetanus protection as an adult means getting a tetanus booster once every ten years. Tetanus is a very serious disease that kills up to one in five people who get it. It is caused by a bacteria mostly found in soil that enters the skin through a cut or scrape. The bacteria then produce a poison that can cause painful tightening of muscles all over the body. Tetanus is also known as lockjaw, because often the first muscles affected are those of the jaw. That’s why before you head out into the garden this spring, it’s important to make sure you are up to date with your tetanus immunization. Have you had your booster? Adults over the age of 65 should also receive a Pneumococcal vaccination.
There are other reasons to ask about adult immunization. Do you have a medical condition? Do you plan to travel to another country? Are you pregnant or do you plan to be? Are you a caregiver or grandparent? Are you a gardener or do you work with soil? Does your job or lifestyle expose you to infection? Are you a health care provider? Whether you answer yes to any of these questions, you should still speak to a public health nurse, family doctor or pharmacist to make sure you have the best protection against preventable diseases.
While no vaccine is risk free, these life-saving injections are one of the safest tools of modern medicine. The large majority of vaccine-related side effects are minor and short-lived; more severe reactions, such as allergic reactions occur in less than one in every million vaccine doses given. Compare these odds to the consequences of getting a devastating illness like measles, polio, meningitis or diphtheria.
Immunization programs were set up to protect our children and communities from potentially life-altering diseases. It is risky to think that your family is protected because everyone else is immunized. These days with global travel, diseases are but an airplane ride away. Travelers can potentially bring germs from areas where they are common to your neighbourhood. Not keeping up to date with vaccinations is putting those with immature or compromised immune systems (such as babies and people with certain illnesses) at risk. Relying on others to keep current with vaccinations so you don’t have to is a dangerous idea which makes entire communities vulnerable. Rely on accurate information about vaccines and diseases; don’t let misinformation cloud your decision!
For more information on vaccines and immunization, visit www.immunizebc.ca or call 811 from any phone to speak with a nurse. You can also contact your local public health unit, family doctor or pharmacist for more information or to make an appointment.
Shelagh Machin, RN, BScN, is the Immunization Program Coordinator for VIHA South.