The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life-saving vaccination at a global level, putting millions at risk for life-threatening diseases. We saw notable decreases in childhood vaccine ordering and administration between 2019 and 2020. Top of mind for me this April—a month that includes Adolescent Immunization Action Week, National Public Health Week, World Health Day, and National Infant Immunization Week—is that due to advances in medical science, and vaccines specifically, our loved ones are protected from more diseases than ever before. Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of people have been eliminated primarily due to vaccines.
As a pediatrician, I’m no stranger to the power of vaccines to keep children healthy. Vaccines protect children from serious, sometimes deadly diseases, such as COVID-19, measles, polio, meningitis, and whooping cough. Timely vaccination is critical, as immunization schedules are designed to provide children with immunity early in life before they may be exposed to life-threatening diseases. Not only do delayed or missed vaccines leave children vulnerable to illness, but when vaccination rates fall even just a little, vaccine-preventable diseases can spread easily.
There are many reasons to vaccinate children. Most importantly, it can save their lives—and the lives of people they love. Despite the safety and effectiveness of routine vaccines, vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat. For example, the HPV vaccine, routinely recommended at ages 11 and 12, could prevent more than 90% of HPV-related cancers from ever developing. However, less than 60% of adolescents are up to date on their HPV vaccinations. Without high immunization levels, children and entire communities are at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks.
I urge parents and health care providers to get all children caught up on recommended immunizations. Here’s how we can do it:
- If you’re a parent, stay up to date on well-child visits, and make sure your child gets all their recommended vaccines on time. If you’re unsure whether your child is up to date, ask your child’s health care provider or locate your child’s vaccine records, and promptly schedule an appointment to get your child caught up. In addition to your child’s health care provider’s office, you may be able to schedule routine vaccinations at your state or local health department immunization clinic, community health center, or local pharmacy. Learn what steps to take before the vaccine appointment to feel more prepared and help your child feel more comfortable at the appointment.
- If you’re a health care provider, please continue to communicate the importance of routine immunization. Assess vaccination status at every visit and promptly schedule appointments for catch-up vaccinations.
- If you’re a partner organization, find resources to help reach parents and health care providers caring for children with the Catch-Up to Get Ahead Toolkit and National Infant Immunization Week Digital Toolkit. You can also promote on time vaccination during other observances, such as National Public Health Week, World Health Day, and Minority Health Month.
Learn more about the vaccines that keep children healthy.