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Editorial: Protect infants with required immunization

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Indiana and national health officials launched a campaign last month to emphasize infant vaccinations in the wake of recent whooping cough and other disease outbreaks.

While Indiana is third in the nation for adolescent tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines and meningococcal vaccines, the state falls in the bottom half for on-time infant immunizations with only 61 percent of children age 19-35 months getting required shots, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

State Health Commissioner William VanNess said parents sometimes wait until their children are about to enter school, where vaccinations are required for entry. That could mean putting children at risk for the months or weeks before they get the shots, he said.

In addition, some parents fear vaccinations could lead to autism — which health authorities strongly dispute — and never vaccinate their children.

Indiana excuses vaccine requirements if parents cite a religious or medical concern.

Only about 1 percent of children nationwide are not vaccinated, but communities with higher rates of unvaccinated children have a greater risk of outbreaks of diseases that have been virtually eliminated in the country. Indiana ranks comparably to national rates for nonmedical vaccine exemptions, but four states including Michigan have exemption rates higher than 5 percent.

Officials warn that could mean greater risk of catching diseases that could be prevented with vaccination. The state health department reports outbreaks of whooping cough, measles, mumps and chicken pox have hit the state in recent years.

Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general, said in a news release, “Today we take for granted the low disease rates that we have. But “diseases are still all around the world.”

The recent diagnosis of the MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) virus in an Indiana patient shows how easily disease can spread from one part of the world to another. A case of polio, for instance, could just as easily travel from one of the pockets of the disease, such as Pakistan or India, to a Hoosier day care center with potentially devastating effect.

Schuchat said parents who never saw measles or other now-preventable diseases in action might not realize their dangers, and diagnosing the diseases can be difficult because fewer doctors have been exposed to them.

“These outbreaks really do not need to happen,” VanNess said. “They are preventable.”

Getting children vaccinated in time can save lives. Parents need to remain vigilant about vaccinating their children not just for school but in the preschool years as well.

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