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National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) is an annual observance to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and to celebrate the achievements of immunization partners in promoting healthy communities throughout the United States. This year, NIIW is April 16-23, 2016.

NIVW tweet imageOne of the purposes of NIIW is to remember that vaccinating children on time is the best way to protect them against 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases before their second birthday. “The recommended immunization schedule is designed to protect babies early in life, when they are vulnerable and before it’s likely that they will be exposed to diseases,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Deputy Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Public health and medical experts base their vaccine recommendations on many factors. They study information about diseases and vaccines very carefully to decide which vaccines kids should get and when they should get them for best protection. Although the number of vaccines a child needs in the first two years may seem like a lot, doctors know a great deal about the human immune system, and they know that a healthy baby’s immune system can handle getting all vaccines when they are recommended. Dr. Messonnier cautions against parents delaying vaccination. “There is no known benefit to delaying vaccination. In fact, it puts babies at risk of getting sick because they are left vulnerable to catch serious diseases during the time they are not protected by vaccines.”

When parents choose not to vaccinate or to follow a delayed schedule, children are left unprotected against diseases that still circulate in this country, like whooping cough and measles. Since 2010, we have seen between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of whooping cough each year in the United States. And, up to 20 babies die from whooping cough each year in the United States. Most whooping cough deaths are among babies who are too young to be protected by their own vaccination. Luckily, babies can start being protected from whooping cough before they are even born. All pregnant women are recommended to receive the whooping cough vaccine, or Tdap, during the third trimester of each pregnancy to help protect their baby from whopping cough until he can receive his first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. Parents should also encourage any other caregivers or close contacts receive the Tdap vaccine at least two weeks before meeting the baby.

The United States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 667 cases from 27 states reported to CDC’s NCIRD. This was the greatest number of cases in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000. Staying on track with the immunization schedule ensures that children have the best protection against diseases like these by age 2.

Parents who are concerned about the number of shots given at one time can reduce the number given at a visit by using the flexibility built into the recommended immunization schedule. For example, the third dose of hepatitis B vaccine can be given at 6 through 18 months of age. Parents can work with their child’s healthcare professional to have their child get this dose at any time during that age range.

While Massachusetts generally has high immunization rates, county and local immunization rates can vary across the state. In the spring of 2015, MDPH Immunization Program started posting the most recent school immunization and exemption rates. You can see your county and school’s rates to gain insight into your community’s acceptance of the recommended vaccine schedule. Areas with higher exemption rates and lower immunization rates may be vulnerable to an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. The best way to protect your child and larger community is to vaccinate on the recommended schedule and encourage your friends to do the same with their children.

If you have questions about the childhood immunization schedule, talk with your child’s doctor or nurse. For more information about vaccines, go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents.

In honor of National Infant Immunization Week, the Department of Public Health Immunization Program is proud to announce that Dr. Ron Samuels has been selected as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Childhood Immunization Champion for Massachusetts. Dr. Samuels has been a practicing pediatrician, teacher, mentor and passionate advocate for child health in Massachusetts for the past 20 years.  Pejman Talebian, MA, MPH, Director of the MDPH Immunization Program, noted that “Dr. Samuels has been a close partner working with the Immunization Program over the years to promote complete and timely vaccination of the Commonwealth’s children.”

So during this year’s National Infant Immunization Week, let’s remember that immunization is a shared responsibility. Families, healthcare professionals, and public health officials must work together to help protect the entire community. There are many programs and partners in Massachusetts working to insure high immunization rates in children, including the Department of Public Health’s Immunization Program, MA Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics (MCAAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program, and many more.

Written By:


Immunization Outreach Coordinator in the Bureau of Infectious Disease

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