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DHS news release

The following guest opinion was published in the August 2004 issue of ORHealth, a magazine distributed at 300 outlets in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.

The following was written by Lorraine Duncan, DHS immunization program manager.

Length: 566 words

Add shots to your child's 'back to school' list

By Lorraine Duncan

As fall approaches, parents naturally begin thinking about what needs to be done as children prepare to return to school. New clothes and school supplies top the list, but how about updating your child’s immunizations?

All kids need routine shots throughout childhood to remain protected against diseases. It's easy to forget how dangerous these illnesses have been -- and can still be -- because, thanks to immunizations, we don’t see them as often.

Half a century ago, parents lived in fear of childhood diseases such as polio. Symbolized by the "iron lung," polio often meant life-long disability and even death. That changed in 1954 when Jonas Salk introduced his vaccine and it rapidly became a routine childhood immunization. Today, polio-induced paralysis has almost been eliminated worldwide.

The need for preventive vaccination against disease is as important today as it was in the past. Many diseases, such as measles and whooping cough, can cause significant disability and death, and still occur routinely around the world. In an age of international travel, any disease can be in Oregon within hours.

Here are some other points to consider:

  • Oregon has seen a significant increase in whooping cough in the past few years, leading to several major outbreaks since 2002 and an infant death in 2003;
  • Last year there were three imported cases of measles in Oregon;
  • Before routine vaccination, chickenpox caused about 100 deaths and 11,000 hospitalizations in the United States every year. Most deaths occurred among healthy adults and children.
  • Almost all cases of tetanus occur in people who have never been vaccinated or who haven't had a recent tetanus booster.
New this year is a recommendation for routine flu vaccination of all children between 6 months and 2 years of age. Children who are less than 6 months old cannot be vaccinated, but they’re still at risk. Those who have close contact with any child under age 2 years -- such as parents, siblings and child care workers -- need to be vaccinated against flu to protect our most vulnerable youngsters.

Additionally, anyone in a high-risk category, such as people with asthma or diabetes, should receive an annual flu shot. Plus, since flu vaccine is usually widely available, anyone who wants to lessen the chance of getting flu may be vaccinated.

Back-to-school is a perfect time to talk with your medical provider or local health department about whether your child is up-to-date on the required shots. You can also find out when flu vaccine will be available in your community.

The pain of a needle lasts just a few seconds, but the damage of disease can last a lifetime. Children who are missing shots are at risk of preventable disease and they also put those within their community are risk.

Keeping your children current will save you one more headache later: Children who attend school or childcare may be sent home if their shot records are incomplete. Be sure to review their immunization records at school or childcare and add any shots they have recently received.

One last thought: Immunizations aren't just kid stuff. If you can't remember when you had your last tetanus booster, it's time to get one. Get a flu shot yourself to avoid dealing with flu in your household this winter. And the next time you see your medical provider, ask for a check on whether you need any immunizations.

Find more information on routine immunization on the DHS Public Health Web site.

Lorraine Duncan is immunization program manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services.