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We have record or near record low levels of vaccine preventable diseases in the United States, but that does not mean vaccine preventable diseases have disappeared. Many of the viruses and bacteria are still circulating in this country or are only a plane ride away. That's why it's important that everyone receive recommended immunizations on time. In our mobile society, over a million people each day people travel to and from other countries, including countries where many vaccine preventable diseases remain relatively common. Without vaccines, epidemics of many preventable diseases could return, resulting in increased and unnecessary illness, disability, and death.
The following vaccine-preventable diseases, not long ago, disabled and killed millions of American children. Thanks to our country's high childhood immunization coverage levels, these diseases are now very uncommon.
- Tetanus (lockjaw)
- Rubella (German measles)
- Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis A
- HPV (Gardasil)
- Shingles (Zostavax) for adults 60 & over
Vaccines are responsible for the control of many infectious diseases that were once common in this country. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable disease and death still exist and can be passed on to people who are not protected by vaccines. Vaccine-preventable diseases have a costly impact, resulting in doctor's visits, hospitalizations, and premature deaths. Sick children can also cause parents to lose time from work.
It's true that vaccination has enabled us to reduce most vaccine-preventable diseases to very low levels in the United States. However, some of them are still quite prevalent, even epidemic, in other parts of the world. Travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the United States, and if we were not protected by vaccinations these diseases could quickly spread throughout the population, causing epidemics here. At the same time, the relatively few cases we currently have in the U.S. could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases without the protection we get from vaccines.
We should still be vaccinated, then, for two reasons. The first is to protect ourselves. Even if we think our chances of getting any of these diseases are small, the diseases still exist and can still infect anyone who is not protected. A few years ago in California a child who had just entered school caught diphtheria and died. He was the only unvaccinated pupil in his class.
The second reason to get vaccinated is to protect those around us. There is a small number of people who cannot be vaccinated (because of severe allergies to vaccine components, for example), and a small percentage of people don't respond to vaccines. These people are susceptible to disease, and their only hope of protection is that people around them are immune and cannot pass disease along to them. A successful vaccination program, like a successful society, depends on the cooperation of every individual to ensure the good of all. We would think it irresponsible of a driver to ignore all traffic regulations on the presumption that other drivers will watch out for him or her. In the same way we shouldn't rely on people around us to stop the spread of disease; we, too, must do what we can.
The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services Immunization Program provides many immunization services to the families of our community. The Immunization Clinic provides low-cost immunizations to the community and the Travel Clinic provides assessment, education, and immunizations to clients traveling to countries where immunizations are required or recommended. Appointments can be made by calling (562) 570-4315.
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