Healthcare workers say children need routine vaccinations, too

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Doctors are saying routine immunizations are available and ready for protection against 16 infectious diseases that include measles, diphtheria and chickenpox.

Many parents were unable or reluctant to come out for routine immunizations at the height of the pandemic, but the Mississippi Department of Health suggests children should “certainly be updated” on routine vaccines.

“The Mississippi State Department of Health will not be mandating COVID vaccines for students,” said a representative, Liz Sharlot, but they are recommending “everyone eligible receive a flu vaccine” to protect from a influenza season that might end up harsher than usual.

Global vaccination coverage in children fell from 2019 to 2020, according to a recent study by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Reasons included reduced access, lack of transportation, worries about COVID exposure and supply chain interruptions, the study said.

“Third doses of the vaccines for polio and for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, or DTP, decreased from 86 percent of all eligible children in 2019 to 83 percent in 2020,” according to the study. “Worldwide, 22.7 million children had not had their third doses of the DTP vaccine last year, compared to 19 million in 2019. Three doses are far more effective than one or two at protecting children and communities.”

This is especially true with measles, one of the most contagious diseases known to humans. The CDC said that a very high vaccination rate is crucial to keep the disease from spreading. In 2019, 22 measles outbreaks occurred in 17 states, mostly in unvaccinated children and adults, the CDC reported.

As of Nov. 8, there have been 5,502 cases of COVID-19 in Lincoln County, with 136 deaths, the health department reported. Former President Donald Trump provided the CDC $100 million to fight COVID, which might have been the main focus for parents at that time.

But other vaccines are just as important for adults, children and their                                                                            communities. The vaccines provide protection against Hepatitis A and B, mumps, whooping cough, polio, rubella, rotavirus, pneumococcus, tetanus, diphtheria, human papillomavirus and meningococcal disease and others. The CDC said that even small drops in vaccination coverage can lead to serious outbreaks.

Healthcare workers in some communities think weekend vaccination clinics can help working parents get children caught up on routine immunizations while they get flu or COVID shots. The fact that significant numbers of parents opposed routine childhood vaccinations even before the pandemic offers yet another challenge for health professionals.

“We recommend that all Mississippians get their flu shots every year, but especially now with COVID-19,” said Mississippi State Department of Health’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, in a news release. “The flu vaccine can be given at the same time — or any time before or after — the COVID-19 vaccine. There is no minimum amount of time you need to wait between these vaccinations.”

Seasonal influenza vaccinations are available for children and qualifying adults at all Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) county health departments, pediatrician offices and most drug stores.

Dr. Byers said that flu season usually peaks anywhere from December through February. Individual flu cases are not reported to MSDH, but the agency monitors flu activity through the ILI System, made up of health care providers in Mississippi who report the percentage of patients with flu-like symptoms to a statewide database. Providers participating in the system also submit respiratory samples for flu testing to the MSDH Public Health Laboratory. State health officials use this information to determine the presence and spread of flu throughout the state.

“We recommend getting vaccinated now before we reach peak flu activity,” he said. “Influenza vaccination is especially important for young children, pregnant women, those over 65, and those with underlying health problems. Flu vaccination is the best way to protect both children and adults from serious complications such as hospitalization, and in many cases, death.”

The CDC recommends attending well-child visits, saying they are essential for many reasons, including the following:

• tracking growth and developmental milestones

• discussing any concerns about your child’s health

• getting scheduled vaccinations to prevent illnesses like measles and whooping cough (pertussis) and other serious diseases

Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older as the best protection against the flu. Those 18 and under who are eligible for the program can receive a flu vaccination for $10 at health departments. Private insurance, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is also accepted for children’s flu shots. A list of all VFC providers can be found at https://msdh.ms.gov.

While vaccination is the best protection against flu, basic infection control measures can also reduce the spread of flu, such as covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, staying at home when you or your children are sick, and washing your hands frequently.