How Important are Immunizations?

By Kathleen Ganster

“You are never too old to be up-to-date on your immunizations,” said Sharon Silvestri, Chief of Allegheny County Health Department’s Infectious Disease Program.

While many people are familiar with keeping their children up-to-date on immunizations, adults are often not as aware regarding what immunizations they should have. Immunization rates are over 97% in Allegheny County for school aged children is due to school immunization regulations but adult immunization rates are lagging nationally compared to children.

“That is why immunization education continues to be an important part of what we do at the Allegheny County Health Department,” said Silvestri.

Because there are successful vaccination programs in the United States, some people no longer see vaccine preventable diseases as a concern, according to Silvestri.

Sharon Silvestri

“Sometimes parents may think that just because we don’t see the diseases that they have pretty much gone away, but that isn’t the case,” said Silvestri. “We must continue to vaccinate and keep our immunization rates high. Vaccine preventable diseases still exist in this country and can be imported from foreign countries.”

Whooping cough, measles and chicken pox are all childhood diseases that used to be fairly common before vaccines became available.

“Every time a parent says ‘no’ to vaccine for their child they are saying ‘yes’ to disease; leaving our communities vulnerable to outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases,” said Silvestri.

She continued, “Chicken pox is usually no big deal for most people; however in some cases people may have serious complications requiring hospitalization. Measles can cause blindness and hearing problems and whooping cough is called the ‘100 –day- cough’ for a reason.”

Some parents are also concerned about side effects of immunizations. A study a few years ago by a British doctor proclaimed MMR vaccine caused autism. This study caused great alarm world-wide. The physician’s findings have been discredited and his license suspended. Unfortunately, some of the rumors still exist.

“Parents may hesitate to vaccinate because of a lack of knowledge, misinformation, and a celebrity who blames her child’s autism on vaccinations,” said Silvestri.

Parents should consult with their child’s health care provider or the Allegheny County Health Department on necessary vaccinations and concerns.

Travelers Beware

Before traveling outside of the country, travelers should see what vaccinations are recommended not only to protect them, but to prevent bringing a disease back into the United States.  The department’s website has information for travelers at  www.achd.net.

“We say that many diseases are a plane or boat ride away. In 2011, we saw 222 cases of measles which is the highest rate since 1996. It was considered eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but then we believe it was imported back into the country,” said Silvestri.

It isn’t just traveling to Third World countries. According to Silvestri, Spain, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are all countries that travelers should be aware of for measles concerns.

Adult immunizations

There are numerous immunizations that are important for adults, particularly seniors, according to Silverstri. All adults should receive immunizations for influenza and Tdap, a vaccine to prevent tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).

Additional recommended vaccines include pneumonia, shingles, chicken pox if one never had the disease, hepatitis A and B, HPV for adults up to age 26, and others.  For a list of recommended immunizations, consult a physician or the Allegheny County Health Department.

Allegheny County Health Department

The Allegheny County Health Department provides immunizations for many diseases for families and travelers. The Health Department is open Monday, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays, from 1 to 8 p.m. to provide immunizations. No appointment is necessary.

There are also clinics through-out the county that offer immunizations on a sliding-fee for those concerned about costs.

For more information about immunizations, traveling and services, visit www.achd.net  or 412-687-ACHD.