-- Vaccine development is slow and methodical, with scientists testing, researching, and plotting the eradication of dangerous diseases, which continue to evolve.
But the past few years have yielded remarkable advances in the field of immunology, work that will improve health and safety by leaps and bounds, experts say.
These improvements should be welcome news to parents as children return to school. Some of mankind's most deadly infectious diseases can be prevented and ultimately eradicated as doctors and public health professionals reiterate to parents the importance of having their children immunized.
Vast Health Improvements Possible
The vaccines target a wide range of diseases - meningitis, rotavirus, human papilloma virus, and shingles. Together, they could save thousands of lives, both young and not-so-young, each year, according to Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"This is a banner year," Dr. Offit says. "I don't think we're going to see another new vaccine for 10 years. I just think this has been an amazing year."
The new meningitis vaccine - endorsed last year by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - in particular has the potential to prevent hundreds of gruesome deaths and thousands of life-altering illnesses, Dr. Offit says.
"This is a vaccine that will prevent a bacteria that creates both bloodstream infections and meningitis in about 3,000 people a year, most of them children, and 300 deaths a year," Dr. Offit says.
Meningitis Vaccine Important for Teens
"The vaccines are so remarkably safe and so remarkably effective that I, as a parent and a grandparent and a pediatrician, strongly urge parents to get all of them, and get them on time," according to Dr. Louis Z. Cooper, professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Meningococcal disease is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, a common bacterium that invades the body to infect the lining of the brain or the bloodstream. Even when the disease is not fatal, it can cause lifetime brain damage, hearing loss, loss of limbs, or kidney failure, Dr. Offit says.
The CDC recommends that all students entering middle school and high school and all college freshmen living in dormitories receive the new meningococcal vaccine.
Common Diseases Now Preventable
New vaccines, other than meningococcal, treat or prevent:
Rotavirus - a germ that causes severe diarrhea in children, usually with fever and vomiting. "It's a very common cause of doctor visits and hospital visits in young children. About one of every 50 children in this country will be hospitalized due to dehydration related to rotavirus," Dr. Offit says.
Human papilloma virus - a leading cause of cervical cancer and genital warts. "There are more than 10,000 new cases of cervical cancer each year," Dr. Offit says. "This will prevent about 70 percent of the strains that cause cervical cancer," he adds.
Shingles - an outbreak of rash or blisters on the skin that is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. "It's for people over 60 years of age, and it will reduce their chances of getting shingles by at least 50 percent," according to Dr. Offit.
Immunization Schedule Revised
Physicians also are improving the immunization schedules of already-developed vaccines, in response to surges in certain diseases.
For example, a booster dose of an improved tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine now is recommended for teens and adults every 10 years. This is to better prevent pertussis, or whooping cough, which has been on the rise since the 1980s and can be fatal to children.
"We've recognized that we're seeing a gradual increase of whooping cough in this country, and realized this reflects the gradual waning of vaccinations given years before," Dr. Cooper says.
Referring to the new vaccine schedule, Dr. Offit says, "If we really do follow up on this recommendation, we'll go a long way toward eradicating whooping cough from this country."
Another vaccination schedule advance involves expansion of the age range for children receiving influenza immunization, Dr. Cooper says.
Until recently, flu vaccination had been recommended for children between 6 months old and 2 years old. Now, physicians are recommending that children as old as 5 years of age get vaccinated for the flu, along with their parents and caretakers, according to Dr. Cooper.
Always consult your physician for more information.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.
Timing of Vaccinations is Everything
Millions of US children are not getting the scheduled immunizations they need to ward off disease, experts warn.
"Despite the success of increasing the numbers of children being vaccinated, what is very troublesome is that 2.1 million children are not getting timely vaccinations," says Amy Pisani.
Pisani is executive director of Every Child By Two: The Carter/Bumpers Campaign for Early Immunization of Every Child By Two (ECBT).
The mission of ECBT is to protect all children from vaccine preventable diseases. This is done by raising parental awareness of the critical need for timely infant immunizations, fostering the establishment of a systematic method to locate and immunize children, and providing convenient access to immunization services into the future.
When children miss their immunization schedule, most cannot catch up and are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, such as whooping cough, hepatitis, or meningitis and influenza.
Vaccinations have been very successful and resulted in the elimination of many childhood diseases, says Dr. Richard Judelsohn, a pediatrician at Buffalo Pediatric Associates and an advisor to the Erie County Department of Health, New York.
"We want to make every effort never to let us slide back into a situation where we might begin to start to see [these] diseases again, diseases which have been eradicated," he says.
The schedule on which vaccines are given to children is carefully worked out, and takes into account expert opinions as to the best time to immunize against particular illnesses, Dr. Judelsohn explains. The schedule - devised by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices can be confusing, he admits.
"It is a challenge for pediatric providers to navigate the schedule and all the associated tests that go with that," Dr. Judelsohn says. "And the parents feel this way, too," he adds.
Dr. Judelsohn believes that phone and e-mail reminders and recall systems can go a long way in making sure that vaccinations are not missed. "Another thing that can be done is reducing the number of shots by using combination vaccines," he says.
Always consult your child's physician for more information.
(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)