A resolution which made it through the legislature this session officially established this week as Immunization Week in South Carolina.
Doctors say immunization protects people from diseases which have serious side effects or can be deadly. They strongly encourage parents to immunize their children.
“It is a very easy, safe, and effective way to prevent children from being exposed and getting sick with up to 16 infectious diseases,” University of South Carolina medical school Associate Professor Dr. Anna-Kathryn Burch said. “It is important to get your child vaccinated.”
The pediatric infectious disease physician said immunizing children also creates what’s known as “herd immunity” that also protects other non-vaccinated children near them.
“When a certain percentage of a population is actually vaccinated, then you can protect others who may not be able to get vaccinated because they’re immuno-suppressed or have other reasons why they can’t get vaccines,” she said.
South Carolina is seeing an increase in parents who claim religious exemptions for mandatory school vaccinations. DHEC said parents for more than 9,400 children claimed the exemption last school year. While still less than 1.2 percent of all enrolled students, that number has nearly doubled since 2012.
“People who don’t receive the recommended vaccines are at risk for getting a disease or illness that is truly preventable,” Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) medical consultant Tracy Foo said. “Every dose of every vaccine is important to protect yourself and others in the community from infectious diseases.”
“When parents opt out of having their children vaccinated, it can set the stage for disease rates to rise,” Burch said. “If it were not for vaccines, we would see many more cases of preventable infectious diseases.”
DHEC last week revealed the first measles diagnosis in South Carolina since 1997. The virus had all but disappeared in the United States after vaccinations became widespread.
“Vaccines are safe. We have data over and over and over again that vaccines are safe and effective,” Burch said. “There’s misconceptions out there where vaccines can be blamed for the increased rise in autism. One of my big things that I like to say to parents is that has been completely debunked. That is not true at all.”
Burch recommends parents check with their children’s doctors every year before they start school to make sure they’re current on their vaccinations. She also recommends everyone get vaccinated annually for the flu.
There are programs for children and adults which provide low- or no-cost vaccines in South Carolina. Adults can get vaccines at many local pharmacies without a prescription. All county health departments provide vaccines for people of all ages. Call 1-855-472-3432 for an appointment.
August is recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month.