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From the Desk of Assemblyman Charles Lavine: August 27, 2009

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

It’s August and summer is quickly coming to a close. With so much to do, keeping up with routine vaccinations can easily be put on the back burner. That’s why August has been named National Immunization Awareness Month, a time to remind people about the benefits of vaccines and to encourage them to remain up to date on immunizations.

In the 20th century, immunizations have eradicated smallpox, eliminated polio in the U.S. and significantly reduced the number of cases of measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis and other diseases. The recent wave of the H1N1 virus has made it clear that now, more than ever, we need to ensure that people are up to date and educated on vaccinations. While currently there is no vaccine for H1N1, clinical trials of a vaccine are under way and may be ready for the public as early as this fall.

It’s important that parents begin the immunization process early by ensuring their children receive routine childhood vaccinations. Many basic immunizations are covered under Child Health Plus, in addition to opportunities like the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides free vaccines for children 18 years and under. These programs offer parents a convenient, low-cost way to ensure their child receives basic immunizations.

In New York State, all students are required to be immunized against poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, rubella, hepatitis B, diphtheria, and varicella (chickenpox). It’s also recommended that all first-year college students planning to live in dorms be immunized against meningitis, a rare but deadly contagious disease that affects college students as a result of crowded living environments.

Though vaccinations early in life are critical to a child’s healthy development, the immunization process should be continued throughout adolescence and into adulthood to reduce the risk of catching certain diseases, like human papillomavirus (HPV). The vaccine prevents the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. It is routinely recommended for girls 11 and 12 years of age and also recommended for girls and women 13 through 26 years of age who did not receive it when they were younger.

As we get older, we often assume that vaccinations we received during childhood mean we are no longer at risk. However, immunity can begin to fade over time, and as we age we become more susceptible to serious diseases caused by common infections like the flu, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on any current vaccinations recommended for adults. The CDC recommends that people age 65 and older get vaccinated against influenza each year. This age group is most vulnerable and at the highest risk for complications, hospitalizations and deaths from influenza.

In addition, if you are planning on traveling to a foreign country, it’s important to remember that several infectious diseases such as typhoid fever and yellow fever are only a plane ride away. You may need additional vaccines if you are planning on a destination where diseases exist that are not common in the U.S.

For more vaccination information, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines or call 1-800-CDC-info (232-4636). To learn more about the benefits of Child Health Plus, visit www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/chplus/index.htm or call 1-800-698-4KIDS and ask about Child Health Plus.