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April 25, 2006 > Immunization Week: nfant Immunizations Give Babies a Healthy Head Start

Immunization Week: nfant Immunizations Give Babies a Healthy Head Start

When babies are born, we feel the overpowering desire to protect them from harm. Sometimes harm comes in the form of the microscopic organisms that cause 13 vaccine-preventable diseases. National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) is observed annually to focus on the importance of immunizing infants against these diseases by the age of two.

This year, NIIW will be held in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization's Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA), April 22-29, 2006. The United States joins 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere to promote the need for routine vaccinations for infants and children.

Dr. Lyn Dos Santos, Director of Washington Hospitalís Pediatric Hospitalist Program, says the positive effects of increased infant immunization have been apparent over the last 15 years.

"When I was trained 15 years ago, we saw children with pneumococcal diseases, primarily pneumonia and meningitis, all the time," Dos Santos says. "Now, we hardly every see that. The incidence of invasive disease has remarkably decreased."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood immunization is at a record high in the United States while vaccine-preventable diseases are at an all-time low. But diseases that once had devastating effects on the population can return if parents and the community are not diligent about immunizing their children early.

Immunizations protect children against measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whooping cough, Hepatitis-A, Hepatitis-B, tetanus, Hib disease (H. influenzae type b), diphtheria, influenza, pneumococcal disease and chickenpox. All of these immunizations need to be given before children are two years old in order for them to be protected during their most vulnerable period. Babies are more likely to have complications or die from vaccine-preventable diseases than older children.

"Infants donít have the immunity built up that an older child has," Dos Santos says. "If you have an infant with pneumonia and a seven-year-old with pneumonia, the infant will get sick faster than the seven-year-old who has built up some immunity."

Beginning at birth, all children should be immunized at regular visits to a health care provider. A typical immunization schedule recommends shots starting at birth and going through 24 months of age, with boosters and catch-up vaccines continuing through the teenage years and into adulthood. Within the past year, the CDC began recommending that the first Hepatitis B shot be given before a newborn leaves the hospital. Dr. Dos Santos says some parents opt to wait until the childís first pediatric visit, usually within a few days of birth.

According to the CDC 2001 National Immunization Survey, only 77 percent of our nation's children were fully immunized by age two. In some areas of the country, the rate is as low as 55 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a national goal of immunizing 90-95 percent of the population under two.

Washington Hospital provides free immunizations through a partnership with the Alameda County Immunization Assistance Program. The Washington On Wheels Mobile Health Clinic (W.O.W.) is an active participant in the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC). The VFC program is designed to help raise childhood immunization levels by providing free vaccines to eligible children. For more information on the W.O.W. mobile clinic schedule or to make an appointment, please call (510) 608-3203.

For general questions about immunization, immunization providers and where to get low-cost immunizations, call the Public Health Clearinghouse at (888) 604-INFO or the Alameda County Immunization Assistance Program at (510) 267-3230.

For more information about the importance and impact of immunization, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site at

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