News release: CDC immunizations chief to help Minnesota observe National Infant Immunization Week with visit April 22-24

News Release
April 19, 2013

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CDC immunizations chief to help Minnesota observe National Infant Immunization Week with visit April 22-24

Annual observance stresses importance of immunizations in protecting babies, young children

One mom noticed how irritable her baby was and that she wasn't eating; another mom realized that her baby was having episodes of not breathing; one dad was holding his child who was in a fit of uncontrollable coughing until the baby finally vomited. All of them knew it was time for their baby to see a doctor; none of them realized their infant had whooping cough, a vaccine-preventable disease, or how they had gotten it.

In reviewing the infant cases from 2012's pertussis outbreak in Minnesota, which saw the greatest number of cases since the 1930s, for the majority it was close family members who played an unwitting role in spreading pertussis to infants too young to be vaccinated. These cases illustrate the importance of proper immunization in protecting the lives of infants and young children and that is the focus of National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) April 20-27: raising awareness of the critical role vaccines play in protecting infants and young children from serious childhood diseases.

One of the nation's top immunization experts will help Minnesota kick off National Infant Immunization Week this year. Dr. Melinda Wharton, acting director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC), will be in Minnesota April 22-24. She and two others from CDC will join the Minnesota Department of Health and its local public health and private health care partners in a variety of activities and special events marking the week.

A primary focus of this year's activities will be on talking to pregnant women and their doctors about the importance of immunizations for themselves and their babies. "Protecting infants from vaccine preventable diseases starts before the baby is born by making sure mom is up to date on her vaccinations,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of MDH's Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division.

There are certain vaccines that pregnant women can get to help keep them healthy, and the antibodies she passes to her baby will provide short term protection to him until he is old enough to be vaccinated. For example, both influenza and the vaccine that protects against pertussis (whooping cough) are recommended for pregnant women.

Pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine during every pregnancy to protect themselves and their baby from whooping cough. Getting vaccinated during pregnancy makes it less likely the mom will get whooping cough (and then pass it to her baby) during the time when the baby is most at risk for serious illness - the first few months of life. It also will provide some short term immunity to the baby through sharing of antibodies until she is old enough to develop immunity through her own vaccination. There were more than 4,000 cases of whooping cough in Minnesota in 2012 and 2 percent of cases were in infants under four months of age. Nearly one-third of those cases required hospitalization.

When infants are too young to be vaccinated, it's also important that adults and children around them are vaccinated to provide a cocoon of protection. Once the child is old enough to be vaccinated, it's important to follow the recommended immunization schedule to continue that protection.

Among the week's planned events:

    • A "Celebration of Immunization” will be held at Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic's 1st Street Building in Duluth from 10 to 11 a.m. Monday, April 22. Dr. Timothy Zager, president of Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic and a pediatrician, will host the event and share his perspectives on immunizations. Dr. Wharton and Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Edward Ehlinger will give a national and state perspective, highlighting Minnesota's relatively high vaccination rates and the good work being done in clinics like Essentia. Local parents will share their thoughts on the importance of vaccines for the health of their families. Children who have well-child visits in the Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic pediatrics department next week and expecting moms who come in for their OB-GYN appointments will receive a free copy of the book, "Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor," to raise awareness about childhood immunizations.
    • A series of Grand Rounds presentations for health care providers and medical professionals.
    • Visiting a prenatal/parenting class. Recognizing that many parents' attitudes and decisions about immunizations are formed before the baby is born, Dr. Wharton and other staff will talk to expecting parents at a parenting/prenatal class.
    • Appearances by Dr. Wharton on television morning news-talk show in Duluth Monday.
    • MDH will announce the Minnesota winner of the CDC Childhood Immunization Champion Award and will hold a special recognition event.

    "We're excited and honored to have Dr. Wharton join us for NIIW this year,” said Commissioner Ehlinger. "Her visit will help us spotlight some of the great work that's being done in Minnesota on immunizations. But we also know that immunization rates are not as high as they could be or should be for some communities and groups of people. Dr. Wharton and her staff will help us brainstorm with our partners different approaches we can take to improve those rates.”

    For more information on NIIW in Minnesota, visit the MDH website:


Media inquiries:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications

Kristen Ehresmann
MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control