August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which emphasizes the importance of vaccinations across all stages of life. There is not a more important time of year than now to begin a discussion about vaccine-preventable disease in our community — especially with children returning to school and flu season looming around the corner.
Keeping your family’s vaccinations up to date is one of the most important things you can do to ensure they have a healthy future. Immunizations apply to everyone regardless of age, sex, race, socioeconomic status or geographic location. Vaccine-preventable diseases still circulate in the United States. Falling ill to one could be potentially life-threatening, or cause debilitating effects that can last a lifetime.
The vaccination process throughout life should begin before we are even born. Women should make sure their vaccinations are up-to-date before becoming pregnant to protect themselves and their baby. Receiving the flu and whooping cough vaccines during pregnancy passes the immunity on to the unborn child.
Making sure babies and young children are vaccinated appropriately is vital to their future health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended schedule for immunizations ensures that children are protected from diseases as early in life as possible and is the best way to protect against such diseases. If done correctly, by the time a child is 2 years old, they should be protected from 14 life-threatening diseases. If a child has fallen behind on vaccinations, pediatricians are trained to help children catch up on their immunization schedules.
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As we grow older, our lifestyles and environments change, requiring a new set of protection. Teens and college students have a higher risk for contracting meningitis, as well as cancers caused by the human papilloma virus or HPV. These immunizations are often controversial because they are recommended to be given between ages 11 and 12, an age predating potential exposure. However, administering these vaccines at this time offers the greatest amount of protection, regardless of their risk of exposure.
Immunizations continue to be important throughout adulthood. Adult immunization recommendations are more specific depending on occupation, travel and health status and are not necessarily scheduled. For example, those with diseases, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease are more easily affected by some infections than the general public.
People who travel to less developed countries are at higher risk for contracting vaccine-preventable diseases that are uncommon in the United States. Health care workers have more strict schedules that help reduce the spread of disease among patients, and because they are exposed to infectious diseases more often than the public.
Lastly, as we consider immunizations throughout life, vaccines such as tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis wear off over time, so we need to consider boosters. It is also important to consider that a yearly flu shot is recommended in everyone over the age of 6 months.
Getting your vaccinations is more convenient than ever; it can be as simple as stopping by your local pharmacy. Immunizing pharmacists are well trained and must go through yearly continuing education to keep their certification.
In Idaho, pharmacists can prescribe and administer vaccinations to anyone over the age of 12. With a prescription from a licensed health-care provider, pharmacists can administer vaccinations to anyone under the age of 12.
Amir Piranfar is a doctor of pharmacy candidate in the College of Pharmacy at the Idaho State University-Meridian Health Science Center.