My Turn: Immunization week offers opportunity

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2001

Childhood immunization rates in Alaska and the United States continue to be too low, that is, below the goal of 90 percent of children fully immunized by age 2. A 1996 survey revealed that only 66 percent of children in Alaska were fully immunized by age 2. We ranked 48th out of the 50 states in immunization rates.

The good news is that more children in the past few years have been vaccinated than ever before. In the year 2000, Alaska's (and Juneau's) immunization rates had climbed to 80 percent and we now rank 22nd out of the 50 states. This is due in large part to the efforts of many individuals throughout our communities. These community members have worked diligently to raise awareness about childhood immunizations and to ensure that underimmunized children receive their necessary vaccinations.

Community efforts are needed to reach the continuing goal of immunizing at least 90 percent of Alaska's 2-year-olds. National Immunization Week, April 22-28, will highlight the role we all play in raising infant immunization rates. The Vaccinate Juneau Kid's Coalition has been involved in working toward this goal by sponsoring the Super Shot Saturday events since 1998. This year, on Feb. 10, volunteers saw 370 children and gave almost 800 shots. This event is held in February and again in August.

The greatest challenges facing infant immunizations revolve around the public perception that we do not have a childhood immunization problem in this country. Some parents feel that these diseases are from the distant past and we do not need to worry about them anymore. A disease may not be present in a community, but disease outbreaks do occur in communities that are not protected. In the spring of 1996, 63 cases of measles occurred during an outbreak in Juneau. This was more than twice the number of cases reported in Alaska during the previous five years combined. Although Alaska has less than 0.5 percent of the country's population, the state accounted for 16 percent of all U.S measles cases in 1996. Many vaccine-preventable diseases have no cure or treatment, making prevention our only weapon. This is especially important in young children and infants, whose immune systems cannot easily fight off disease causing viruses and bacteria, and often the effects of disease are more serious in infants than in older children.

Through combined local, statewide and national efforts, National Infant Immunization Week can help to raise infant immunization rates as well as increase education and awareness of immunization issues. Remember, with the new Alaska State Childhood Immunization schedule, all children must now be vaccinated against both hepatitis A and B as well as mumps to be in school. Those children attending licensed childcare facilities will need to be vaccinated against haemophilus influenza type B (HIB), chickenpox, mumps and hepatitis A&B. Avoid the rush next fall and begin today. Make an appointment with your child's health care provider. You can also call the Juneau Public Health Center at 465-3353 for more information on where to get shots in Juneau. Our next Super Shot Saturday is scheduled for Aug. 11.

Alaska's Children: Love them and vaccinate them!

Jan Beauchamp, RN and MPH, and Colleen McNulty, RN, are members of the Vaccinate Alaska Coalition and the Vaccinate Juneau Kids Coalition.

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