Thanks to vaccines, most parents have never seen the devastating effects of diseases like polio, measles or whooping cough.
It’s easy to think these are conditions of the past, but children in the United States still can—and do—get these diseases.
It’s difficult to imagine a local baby with tetanus or measles; most people have never seen these illnesses. Thankfully in places like Vermont, where there’s a high rate of infant and child vaccination, most parents never will.
But if vaccination rates decline, here or anywhere, because children and/or adults stop getting vaccinated, the potential for disease increases. Think about 2014-2015’s Disneyland outbreak, during which 125 cases of measles were confirmed. This occurred because of lower vaccination rates.
As a pediatric care provider, I spend time helping parents and guardians understand the profound impact these diseases can have on children—impacts I’ve seen firsthand. Through volunteer service in Africa, I’ve seen a newborn with tetanus experiencing muscle spasms, unable to eat because her jaw was locked shut. I’ve seen a child with a severe, life-threatening skin infection after chickenpox. These experiences have certainly made me more passionate about ensuring children are vaccinated and protected against these illnesses and influence how I practice medicine.
When I’m talking with a family, helping them decide whether or not to vaccinate their child or children, we spend a lot of time talking through what they’re worried about, what the benefits are and what the risks are. Listening to parents’ concerns about certain vaccines and why they don’t want to vaccinate is very important. Sometimes they’ve heard something on the news or on a talk show that isn’t necessarily correct. We arm them with well studied, science-based information to make the best decisions for their baby. During Infant Immunization Month in April, we’re especially focused on this. We want to keep babies safe.
Weighing the benefits of vaccination can be time consuming, but incredibly important as vaccines can, in some cases, provide both immediate and lifelong immunity for a child. We want to help parents make the best decisions possible on behalf of good health, but understand it can be overwhelming—it’s a lot of information to take in all at once. We respect that you may need time to take information home and weigh the risks and benefits in your own time.
A few points to keep in mind:
- If you’re considering pregnancy, make sure you’re up to date on all your vaccines. You’ll be giving your baby early protection against transmissible diseases like measles and pertussis;
- By the time your baby is 2, she should get vaccines to protect her from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases. Your health care provider can guide you in determining what vaccines your baby needs and when she needs them;
- Make sure those visiting and spending time with your baby—grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles—are also vaccinated, especially in the first few months, when everybody’s visiting and holding the baby. Try to protect your child as much as you can;
- Parents sometimes worry their child is getting a lot of vaccines all at once, but there have been innumerable studies about the safety of following the vaccine schedule;
- Stick with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine schedule. It’s set up the way it is for good reason—to protect your baby when she’s most vulnerable to transmissible illnesses;
- Ensure your child is up-to-date on vaccines before going back to school in the fall.
Finally, remember that we’re all dedicated to the same incredibly important work—doing what’s best for your baby.
To learn more about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended vaccination schedule, visit cdc.gov/vaccines or call 802-225-5810.
Jessie Leyse, M.D., is a board-certified internal medicine, pediatric and infectious disease physician practicing at CVMC Family Medicine - Berlin, a partner in The University of Vermont Health Network. Dr. Leyse worked at a children’s emergency department in Liberia while completing her internal medicine/pediatrics residency. Two years later, during an Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, she took a leave of absence to assist with the epidemic. The experience, and the loss of a colleague to the disease, influenced her deeply. She returned to support Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s travel clinic before joining CVMC in 2017. “I’m hopeful that this diverse background will help me better care for patients in the many seasons of their lives,” she says.