The final weeks of August. Great weather. Days at the beach or at the park. Last picnics and barbecues before the weather turns. And getting ready for school.
It's that last part -- preparing for school -- that is a big part of why August is Immunization Awareness Month. It's been decades since smallpox, measles, mumps, whooping cough and a whole litany of diseases took a horrible toll; so long ago that we tend to take it for granted that our kids will be just fine.
Immunization is crucial. Not just for enrolling in school -- with school districts around the country needing proof of inoculation in order for a child to attend school -- but in keeping these diseases from regaining a foothold in our population.
Noted as one of the most significant health achievements of the 20th century, the creation of vaccines that are effective against childhood diseases changed the world. Although it may be hard to believe, the battle is not fully over -- in fact, some of these diseases, like whooping cough, are again on the rise -- and that is where you can help in Making a Difference.
AmeriCares is working with sanofi pasteur to prevent the spread of whooping cough (pertussis) by increasing access to vaccine for mothers and families in a program called G.I.F.T. / Give Immunity Fight Transmission. The vaccine is being distributed to community clinics and health centers across the US.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed more than $50 million to buy vaccines for such diseases as whooping cough, pneumonia, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis B and to combat polio and other diseases in developing countries. One of their goals is the eradication of polio from the world, noting that there has been a 99 percent reduction in cases since a World Health Organization global initiative started in 1988, but polio still remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria. You can learn about the amazing work of the Gates Foundation in global vaccination.
Speaking of the World Health Organization, their department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals is working to protect everyone from vaccine-preventable diseases -- both current and newly-emerging diseases. Their efforts in research and development; vaccine quality, supply and financing; and immunization strengthening is the centerpiece of creating global standards, and opportunities, to address continued and significant threats to public health. WHO's work continues to make our world, and our families, safer in ways that we don't often think about, but are worth considering -- and helping.
The United Nations Foundation has launched a grassroots movement in our country called Shot@Life that is expanding access to lifesaving vaccines for children in developing countries. Shot@Life is empowering Americans to champion vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save children's lives around the world.
Rotary International does tremendous work in its battle to rid the world of polio. In fact, they enrolled 2012 Olympic athletes in their "This Close" campaign to raise awareness and gain support. You can learn more about this special effort and make an impact for your own community. And there are other organizations, such as the ELMA Foundation, which are improving the lives of children in Africa through sustainable efforts to relieve poverty, advance education and promote health.
So there is still much work to do and many ways you can play a role! But, as with many things, your efforts can begin right at home, by making sure everyone, especially children and older adults in your life, is vaccinated. You can find out locations to get vaccinated on the Internet. For a schedule of what vaccinations are needed and other information, check with the Center for Disease Control.
For yourself, your family and your community, here are five (5) things to think about during Immunization Awareness Month so you can be Making A Difference (M.A.D.):
- Check with your doctor to make sure that everyone in your family is receiving every immunization that's recommended to protect their health
- Keep your own record of your family's vaccinations, and have it in a safe and accessible place
- Spread the word by organizing an awareness campaign in your local schools or with a health fair that includes screenings, immunizations and ways you can give back to those in your community (such as blood marrow and blood typing tests)
- Ask your local health centers and clinics how you can help them in their work to make sure everyone receives their vaccinations... and follow through
- Donate to a local or national nonprofit that is working to make sure our population is protected, including those listed above or the wonderful Immunization Action Coalition
Bonus Tip: You can get even more active by learning about the parts of this issue that touch you the most. Take a look at blogs by everyone from research professionals to parents who care.
When we read the history books about past health epidemics we often wonder why they didn't know the sources of disease. Today, even though we have this information as well as how they are transmitted, there is still the likelihood of a widespread epidemic occurring if steps are not taken to protect our families and communities. Vaccination is one of these steps and by doing so you just might become a hero yourself. Remember, even the smallest acts are Making A Difference! What can you do for yourself and your family to be M.A.D.?
Follow Lisa M. Dietlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisadietlin