National Infant Immunization Week promotes need for vaccines

National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) April 27 - May 4 coincides disturbingly with the second worst U.S. measles outbreak in 25 years, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Michigan Chapter/American Academy of Pediatrics (MIAAP) and other health professionals urge parents to vaccinate their children.

The 26th NIIW accentuates the need to educate parents about the dangers of preventable diseases which can be reduced or eliminated through vaccinations.  It encourages better communication between health care professionals and parents, and it aims to connect parents with providers who participate in Vaccines for Children, a federally-funded program that provides free immunization to families who otherwise could not afford it.  

"Children today should not have to experience measles,” says Dr. Matthew Hornik, MIAAP president-elect.  "The disease had been eliminated, not only in the US but in the entire Western Hemisphere.  Now, the many cases erupting in parts of Michigan mean we must redouble our efforts and educate parents who are either unaware of the importance of vaccinations or are misinformed about their efficacy.”

The call to vaccinate is especially urgent this year, as 704 measles cases in 22 states – including 43 in Michigan – have been reported and linked to unvaccinated individuals (Source: CDC).  Measles is a highly contagious disease that can lead to serious complications in children and even death.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 only to reappear in recent years.  While no fatalities from measles have been reported in the U.S. this year or last year, 35 people in European Union countries died of the disease in 2018, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

                National Infant Immunization Week is part of World Immunization Week (WIW), an initiative begun in 1994 by the World Health Organization (WHO) to highlight the positive impact of vaccination on infants and children and to promote immunization achievements.  More than 180 countries and territories will promote immunization, equity in vaccine use and universal access to vaccination services across borders.

Still, the WHO includes “vaccine hesitancy” among the top 10 global health threats in 2019.  The current U.S. measles outbreak is on track to eclipse the 644 identified cases in 2014, more than half of which occurred among unvaccinated communities in Ohio exposed to a virus brought from the Philippines.

Michigan requires mandatory vaccinations for children in public schools, but parents can obtain a nonmedical waiver which exempts their children.  In some areas of Michigan, 1 in 10 students are granted a waiver and the number could be growing.

 “Infants are one of the most vulnerable populations when a life-threatening disease like measles occurs,’ explains Dr. Sharon Swindell, MIAAP president.  “In the case of measles, an infant depends on community protection for this highly contagious disease, since the measles vaccine is not routinely given until 12 months of age.  It is also important to remember that there are individuals, young and old, who have compromised immune systems and cannot receive certain vaccines.  These individuals also depend on community protection.  Vaccines save lives.     

            MIAAP is a nonprofit, professional organization of more than 1,400 Michigan pediatricians, dedicated to the optimal physical, mental and social health for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults.