By Andrew Solomon

This week (April 20-27), the Boston Public Health Commission celebrates National Infant Immunization Week and World Immunization Week!

More than 200 years ago, the first vaccine for smallpox was developed. Since then, smallpox has been defeated and vaccines have been developed for more than 25 different diseases. These vaccines help prevent millions of deaths around the world each year. Consider measles for example. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 3 million cases of measles and 500 measles-related deaths each year in the United States before the introduction of an effective vaccine in 1968. Today, there are fewer than 100 cases each year!

It’s not just for you

Vaccines can give you valuable protection against a disease, but they can also help protect those around you.  Immunization helps stop the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases to those who are not eligible for a vaccine (including those who are too young for certain vaccines or those with an immune system not strong enough to support the vaccine).

Know the facts

There are many myths surrounding vaccination, but it is important to remember that vaccines are safe and can keep you healthy. Serious side effects from vaccines are extremely rare.  Vaccines do not cause autism or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Side effects are usually minor and might include a sore arm or light fever. Remember that even though there may not be any noticeable disease around you, it is still important that you get the vaccine. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, can occur when people are not immunized.

When should you or a loved one get a vaccine?

Children should be vaccinated for 14 different childhood diseases before they are 2 years old. These include diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox. Some vaccines require additional shots (boosters) later in life, need to be re-administered each year (e.g. flu vaccine), or are given at a later stage in life (e.g. shingles vaccine).  Complete vaccine schedules are available from the CDC for children from birth to 6 years, preteens and teens, and adults.

For more information on vaccines and immunization, visit www.bphc.org or www.cdc.gov/vaccines

Andrew is a project manager for education and outreach in the Infectious Disease Bureau.

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