I’m often struck by how ahead of the curve medical innovations have been in the United States of America. Years ago, I worked with a man who was brilliant, a programmer who had a Ph.D. in mathematics, who also had a disability. After several months of working with him and sharing a few meals together, we got to know each other. I learned his disability was due to catching polio as a child. That seemed really strange to me because he was younger than I am, and I got the polio vaccine as a child. Most American kids born since the mid-1950s have gotten the vaccine, and we’ve never met anyone with polio.
It turned out he grew up in a country where vaccination for polio didn’t begin until 1970, more than 15 years AFTER we started vaccinating folks here in the U.S. He often told me that polio and the effects were fairly common among children where he grew up, affecting several other people he knew. The virus left him with permanent mobility impairments and killed several of his young relatives.
That’s a world I’ve never had to live in, since I was born in 1961 here in the United States. What a blessing!
In this day and age, immunizations remain our most powerful deterrent against a host of horrible diseases, many of which affect children. That brings me to 2022 …
Immunization Only Works If You Take Your Shot
COVID-19 disrupted the lives of almost everyone during 2020 and 2021, and continues to be a cause of concern today. We are learning more every day about setbacks in otherwise routine medical care that happened during the pandemic. Unfortunately, regular immunizations among our population were not spared the disruption, just like primary care visits and check-ups. And, more of us are behind in our care today than ever before.
When we look over the 2020 and 2021 school years, here in the U.S. we see that basic vaccination rates for MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, Hepatitis B and other routine childhood immunizations trended downward for the first time in decades.
Globally, around 25 million children are now behind on their vaccines – the biggest drop seen in more than a decade. Schools, now mostly meeting in person, have had to work with parents to make sure their kids are current on shots to be able to attend. It’s been a struggle for many states to keep their population protected. And I haven’t even looked at the ADULT routine vaccines that have been so helpful, like vaccinations for pneumonia and shingles.
This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that overall, kindergarten population in 2021 was 10% lower than in 2019. Clearly, some parents are not quite ready to enroll their little ones in schools just yet.
Now, I can tell you, as a school-aged child, the LAST thing I wanted to do was go to the doctor! No amount of lollipop sweetness would knock the image of potential needles from my brain. I saw the same thing in my kids as they grew up, a real, live fear of needles! If we are going to catch up on keeping our population safe from these (already beaten through mass immunization) diseases, we all need lots of support and encouragement (and bribery 😊!) to get our shots and keep everyone safe.
And that’s really the rub, isn’t it?
When I get a vaccination for any disease, I’m not just enhancing my personal ability to fight it off, I’m making it harder for me to catch AND SPREAD that disease to my family or the other people around me. It’s no accident that polio and measles are not daily problems for us today, like they were as recently as our parents’ and grandparents’ eras. Even though COVID is sweeping through our population again, this variant is up against a very large vaccinated population. And we can see that death and hospitalization numbers are lower now than in previous surges.
Our grandparents’ dreaded illnesses are not ours to worry about because we targeted these diseases through immunization, and lots of people got lots of vaccines. Going forward, controlling new diseases we are dealing with today will require the same level of effort and cooperation, especially as many of our problem conditions today seem to evolve more quickly than in the past.
Are Your Kids Up to Date On Their Shots? Are You?
On that note, it’s important to make sure you’re up to date on routine vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines, which are now recommended for everyone six months and older. If you are over 50 and you had your original COVID-19 vaccine series and a booster, it’s probably time to get your second booster. I’m getting mine this week. And if you’re 12 – 50, got the original vaccine and have health conditions that affect your immunity, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor if you need a second booster shot, too.
More and more pharmaceutical companies are building longer-term vaccines against COVID-19 on more conventional platforms, like the Novavax shots that were recently approved. We are on the verge of multi-variant shots that can target several bugs like the flu and COVID in one dose. Shots that can deal with more and more mutations each year. It’s a great time for keeping our country healthy. (BTW, if you are six months and older, which I assume you are if you’re reading this, plan to get a flu shot this fall, too.)
And now the really good news. When you use your Blue Cross insurance to get your immunizations for your school-aged children, you will have very low or no out-of-pocket costs. So you can take that worry off your list. If you have any questions about how much immunizations may cost you, please call the customer service number on the back of your card. Our knowledgeable customer service representatives can help you figure out the lowest cost ways to catch up (like scheduling a wellness visit versus a sick visit). You can also get many immunizations for no or low cost at parish health clinics. If you aren’t sure what immunizations you or your kids have gotten, you can request your vaccine record from the state.
The Straight Talk is, keeping everyone up to date on their immunizations, especially our school-aged children, has never been more important. We’ll cover the cost, you handle the lollipops/bribery/rewards! And checkups are not just for kids – if it’s been more than a year since your last one, schedule one today. You might be surprised to find that you, too, will need to catch up on some vaccines.
We will benefit as a nation from your diligence!