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Help Babies Thrive During National Infant Immunization Week

Author: Candice Robinson, MD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases

Infant Immunization

Did you know that April 27-May 4 is the 25th anniversary of National Infant Immunization Week? During this week, hundreds of communities across the United States are joining to celebrate the critical role vaccination plays in protecting our children, communities, and public health. Since 1994, NIIW has focused attention on the benefits of maintaining high immunization rates in the community, state, and nation.

Vaccines play a critical role in reducing infant mortality and morbidity. NIIW is a great opportunity for the maternal and child health (MCH) community—including nurses, social workers, childbirth educators, and community advocates—to show parents that you strongly support on-time vaccination. It’s also a good chance to let parents know that on-time vaccination is the norm, despite what they might hear in the media.

Some parents may have questions about the recommended immunization schedule or wonder why it’s so important to follow. The recommended immunization schedule is designed to protect babies early in life, when they are vulnerable and before it’s likely that they will be exposed to diseases. When parents choose not to vaccinate or to follow a delayed schedule, children are left unprotected against diseases that still circulate in this country, like measles and whooping cough.

You may have heard about recent measles outbreaks in New York, Washington State, and other communities. From January 1 to April 19, 2019, 626 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states. This is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is also on the rise. Since 2010, we have seen between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of pertussis each year in the United States with up to 20 infant deaths. Most whooping cough deaths are among babies who are too young to be protected by their own vaccination. For this reason, pregnant women should receive a dose of the tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine during each pregnancy, preferably during the early part of weeks 27 through 36.

Although immunization rates are high nationally, CDC’s 2017 National Immunization Survey showed that vaccination coverage among children living below the federal poverty level was lower for many routinely recommended childhood vaccines. Uninsured, underinsured, and Medicaid-insured children are eligible for the Vaccines For Children (VFC) program. VFC is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay. MCH professionals can encourage families to talk to their child’s doctor about the VFC program if they are unable to pay for vaccines.

Healthcare professionals remain parents’ most trusted source of information about vaccines for their children. Other MCH professionals can also help support parents in understanding and choosing vaccinations. This NIIW, take some time to make sure you are communicating as effectively as possible with parents. CDC has resources to help you talk with parents about vaccines for infants and prepare for questions parents may ask. We also have resources to share with parents, including an easy-to-read immunization schedule and Infant Immunization FAQs, both available in English and Spanish. Parents can also learn how vaccines work by watching our new series of short, animated videos. For more information, visit cdc.gov/vaccines.