Just in time for back-to-school, August is National Immunization Awareness month. Over the years, we have seen vaccines virtually eliminate diseases that in the past have taken a terrible toll, including polio and smallpox.

Most often we think of vaccinations for children, especially small children, but immunizations are important in all stages of life — before birth, infancy, childhood, and adulthood. Each week of this month is devoted to a different stage. This week, the focus is on vaccines for pregnant women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends pregnant women receive two key vaccines: Tdap vaccine for pertussis (also called whooping cough) and influenza (flu). Both illnesses can be life threatening for a mother and her unborn baby. In addition to preventing illness during pregnancy, antibodies pass from mother to child which provide protection for several months after birth. This protection is critical since infants under six months are too young to get a flu vaccine.  The CDC also recommends women considering pregnancy should confirm with their medical provider their measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine history or immunity. Rubella can cause serious problems, including pregnancy complications and birth defects, therefore getting this vaccine prior to becoming pregnant is critical as the vaccine is not given once pregnant.

The Wilton School District follows the state Department of Health’s immunization requirements for children enrolled in school. A guide to these requirements — for children in pre-K to high school — can be found on the district’s website at wiltonps.org.

Despite custodians’ and school officials’ best efforts, schools are prone to disease
outbreaks. Children in these settings can easily spread illnesses to one another due to
poor hand washing, not covering their coughs and sneezes and other instances in a crowded environment.
Serious health consequences can arise if children are not vaccinated. Some children — such as those with weakened immune systems due to cancer or other serious diseases, serious allergic reactions, and diseases such as type 1 diabetes — cannot receive routine immunizations. They rely on “community” or “herd” immunity to keep from getting sick. Herd immunity also protects a community as a whole. When everyone who should be vaccinated is, germs cannot spread as easily from one person to another, thus protecting the entire community.

Immunization doesn’t end with high school. Colleges and universities may have their own requirements, especially for students living in residence halls. Now is the time for parents to check with their child’s doctor to see what immunizations need to be updated.

Finally, immunizations against illnesses like pneumonia and shingles are available to senior citizens.

For more information about immunizations, visit the CDC or www.ct.gov/dph/immunizations.