April 19, 2011
State, local health officials join in national effort to increase awareness of importance of immunizations for infants, young children
National Infant Immunization Week is April 23-30
Community health worker Mohamed Duale will long remember the day a desperate mother called him at home to say her child was suffering from a fever and red rash all over her body.
“I can't forget the mother's voice, desperate for her child, pleading with me to help. I suspected immediately it was measles. She begged me to give the child the vaccine then, but of course it was too late. All we could do was treat the child's symptoms.”
The child was hospitalized for several days with multiple severe complications from the measles, but is recovering. The case is among 20 reported to date since March, the largest number of cases in the
state since 1991.
The incident illustrates what can happen when too many children in a community are left unvaccinated against a common childhood disease that can easily be prevented through vaccination.
Disease, especially one as opportunistic as measles, easily gains a foothold and finds those most vulnerable.
During National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) April 23-30, the Minnesota Department of Health will join other local, state and national public health and health care partners in calling attention to the importance of immunizations in protecting infants and their communities.
"The occurrence of this year's ongoing measles outbreak at the same time as NIIW really raises the question, 'How did we get to the point where so many children are vulnerable?'" said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases for MDH. “We got here in large part because of the
persistence of a number of myths and misconceptions about vaccines that cause parents to be hesitant to vaccinate.”
To dispel some of those ideas and encourage increased vaccination, MDH and its partners will use a variety of means to inform people that:
- Something else is causing autism – it is not vaccines.
- Vaccines are safe and effective.
- Getting more than one recommended shot at a check-up does not “overload” a child's immune system.
- Because of the success of vaccines, we don't often see vaccine preventable diseases in
Minnesota or the U.S., but they are still out there. We all need to remain vigilant.
- Cost should never be a barrier to getting vaccine -- help is available for low income Minnesotans and those without health insurance through the Minnesota Vaccines for Children (MnVFC)
“Clearly, we have an effective and safe way to protect our community and our children,” Ehresmann said. “We don't need to see them in the hospital. NIIW is a time to rally parents, public health and health care professionals together to make sure another outbreak like this doesn't happen again.”
For NIIW in Minnesota, MDH and its immunization partners will take extra steps to provide information to health care providers and parents to help them discuss vaccines. For example, a special edition of an immunization clinic newsletter and a special NIIW page on the MDH website will offer helpful checklists and lists of resources for providers and parents. An NIIW message will run on the Minnesota Twins scoreboard at home games between April 11 and 30. Special Twitter and Facebook messages will be sent.
MDH is also working with Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota on education efforts as part of the week of activities.
Two NIIW kick-off events for media and partners will be held Monday, April 25, one at CentraCare Clinic in St. Cloud and one at a Hennepin County Medical Center neighborhood clinic in Minneapolis. (Details will be announced separately.) Several parents whose children suffered from vaccine-preventable diseases will share their experiences and pediatricians and public health professionals will share their stories of the importance of immunizations.
During this week, MDH and its public health partners are asking parents to:
- Ask your doctor at each visit whether your child needs any immunizations.
- Look for reliable sources of immunization information.
- Don't let cost be a barrier to vaccinating your child; talk to your doctor about the Vaccines for Children program.
- Vaccinate yourself and other family members to create a cocoon of protection around infants too young to be vaccinated.
Also during the week, MDH and its public health partners are asking health care providers to:
- Implement an immunization reminder system.
- Promote immunization during prenatal visits.
- Create and maintain a patient-friendly environment and provide culturally appropriate immunization education materials.
- Determine what your clinic's immunization rate is and make a goal to raise it higher over the next year.
- Use the Minnesota Immunization Information Connection (MIIC) to help keep track of patient immunization records. If you're not currently enrolled, contact your regional coordinator by going to http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/immunize/registry/map.html to get signed up.
For more information about NIIW and immunizations, visit the MDH website at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/immunize/niiw.html.
Infectious Disease Division Director