By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
December is National Immunization Awareness Month, and I say we’re all in this together. Vaccinations work and save lives, and we can all do our part to protect our kids and our communities by getting immunized against all vaccines.
In the United States, nearly all school-age children get vaccines – 98 percent. But for children in other countries, it’s a different story. In fact, more than 70 percent of children younger than age five in some developing countries go without vaccinations, according to a 2015 report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). And there are clear reasons why kids are missing important vaccines in the developing world: often they’re too young, too poor or too far away to get vaccinations.
But a vaccine is no longer a foreign concept for many children living in the most dangerous places on earth. Today, we know immunization and a clean environment – where there’s air, water and food – reduce the risk of infection and disease. It’s in these situations, in times of crisis and hunger, that vaccines save lives – and it’s up to us all to help.
In Washington, D.C., for example, young families may be even less likely to get immunized than their parents are. DC Public Schools offers several immunization clinics throughout the year. During this time, healthy kids are called on to be part of the solution – and no one should have to be fighting a medical battle just to attend school. Immunization is one of the most effective ways to protect our children. It can protect them from pneumonia, whooping cough, diarrhea, pneumonia, measles, mumps, whooping cough, hepatitis B, malaria, rubella, tetanus, polio and measles. These diseases can be deadly or result in serious health problems like ear infections, meningitis, arthritis and even cancer.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me. But when parents, community members and medical professionals agree that vaccines are safe and effective, we can make great strides in protecting our children.
One group that’s been making headway in its fight against the unvaccinated are the parents of kids with autism. There’s not much scientific consensus surrounding autism, and the link between vaccines and autism has not been verified by rigorous scientific studies, but the claims have been loudly repeated in the media, often presented as fact. While I don’t support these unfounded claims, I do believe these parents do their children a great service by speaking out and working together.
Parents can go to ready4protect.us and sign up for a vaccine reminder and syringe kit. Doctors can speak up in support of vaccinations during every appointment. And everyone who works with children can advocate for good immunization practices.
Fortunately, immunization is now being practiced in many parts of the world. Currently more than 90 percent of school-age children in India, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Ghana, Malawi, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Liberia, Mongolia, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tunisia, South Korea, Tunisia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Haiti, Madagascar, Liberia, Rwanda, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Zambia, Rwanda, Congo, Vanuatu, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Zambia, Namibia, Nigeria, Brazil, Mongolia, Philippines, Mozambique, Niger, Mozambique, Tanzania, Suriname, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Kenya are fully immunized, according to the WHO Vaccine Countdown Project.
Together, we can ensure that everyone, everywhere gets the right kind of vaccines – including kids who need to be protected. We must continue to find solutions that unite and support the most vulnerable, whether it’s in our local schools, at home, in developing countries or anywhere else.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is an emergency medicine physician, anchor and correspondent for CNN, and a frequent contributor to “The Doctors.”