Commentary: Vaccinations can stop a ‘wildfire’ of disease

By John Wiesman

A wildfire can start in seconds. Dry conditions, extreme heat, and a spark can set off an inferno, threatening everything in its path.

The same is true for childhood diseases. Just as a forest can become a virtual powder keg, some of our children’s schools are tinderboxes for serious childhood diseases because they have too many kids who are not fully immunized.

We can’t always prevent a forest fire, but we can prevent many childhood diseases. One way we do this is with vaccines.

August is National Immunization Month, and a perfect time to increase immunization rates in our communities and children’s schools as we near the start of the school year.

Last year, nearly 13,000 kindergartners in Washington did not have all the required immunizations to start school. This means that several thousand kindergartners are without the protection that vaccines provide.

This has created a risk of disease in Washington, and it’s a risk that every child’s parent or guardian can do something about. We have to get to the point where enough of our children are immunized to protect those most vulnerable to infection.

Frankly, we have some schools where less than 50 percent of the kids have the required immunizations. For me, it’s scary to think how easily a child could catch a disease such as whooping cough at school, and bring it home and pass it on to their baby brother or sister. Some of these babies could actually die from this disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 90 percent of all kids get vaccinated against some illnesses to stop a disease from spreading. For a disease such as measles, the number is closer to 95 percent.

Ten years ago, we thought we had measles beat in the United States; however, we let our guard down and measles is back. In the last two years, more than 40 people in our state got measles, and tragically, one of them died from the disease.

The new school year is approaching fast. So on your back to school list, along with new clothes and school supplies, parents should ask their child’s health care provider if their son or daughter needs any vaccinations.

The Washington state Department of Health works with many partners to ensure children receive the recommended vaccines. Anyone needing to locate a health care provider can find one through the Family Health Hotline, at 800-322-2588.

Washington’s future depends on the health of its children. Now is the time to safeguard our kids’ health by making sure all their immunizations are up to date. Together we can prevent childhood diseases from spreading like a wildfire, and raise the healthiest next generation (#healthiestnextgen).

John Wiesman is secretary of the Washington state Department of Health.

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