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Twitter chat: How strong is your child's disease shield?

The childhood immunization schedule is perhaps the most important tool we have in preventing and eliminating diseases according to Air Force Col. Tonya Rans, chief of the DHA’s Immunization Healthcare Branch. (MHS graphic) The childhood immunization schedule is perhaps the most important tool we have in preventing and eliminating diseases according to Air Force Col. Tonya Rans, chief of the DHA’s Immunization Healthcare Branch. (MHS graphic)

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — The Defense Health Agency Immunization Healthcare Branch is hosting an hourlong Twitter chat starting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18, to answer questions about childhood vaccinations. The goal is to help military parents recognize vaccines as a way to mobilize the body’s natural defenses, and to be better prepared when seeking immunization for their children.

“The childhood immunization schedule is perhaps the most important tool we have in preventing and eliminating diseases,” said Air Force Col. Tonya Rans, chief of the DHA’s Immunization Healthcare Branch, or IHB. “Vaccines are like a disease shield your children carry with them all the time.”

The routine childhood immunization schedule protects against more than a dozen diseases. It’s prevented thousands of deaths and millions of cases of disease, Rans said, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, the number of reported cases of chickenpox declined by 97 percent from the time the vaccine was introduced in 1995 to 2010. Rotavirus vaccine, introduced in 2006, prevents an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 hospitalizations per year. Serious pneumococcal infections among young children have plummeted by more than 200,000 cases over a 10-year period. All three of these vaccines are routinely recommended for children before they reach school age, Rans said.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a vaccine-preventable disease that is still prevalent and can be life-threatening, especially among infants. A combination vaccine that protects against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule, Rans said. It’s recommended that pregnant women receive certain vaccines, in part to provide passive immunity to newborns for the first few months of life as they begin to produce their own antibodies.

Children in military families that travel and live overseas may be exposed to diseases that are uncommon or absent in the United States, according to global disease surveillance data. Wild poliovirus is still transmitted in parts of Africa and the Middle East, for example, and travelers might need a booster dose of polio vaccine for entry into those regions.

U.S. immunization rates tend to remain high and steady because immunization is required for enrollment in schools and day care facilities, said Air Force Lt. Col. Heather Halvorson, IHB deputy chief. However, there may be just enough unvaccinated people in a given community to enable the introduction of diseases into it. Once a disease is introduced, it becomes much harder to stop its spread, Halvorson said, leaving unvaccinated people highly susceptible to outbreaks.

“Immunization rates are high in the U.S., but it wouldn’t take much for some of these diseases to return,” Halvorson said. “Depending on how contagious a disease is, a community could need an immunization rate of up to 95 percent for optimal protection.”

Dr. Limone Collins, chief of vaccine safety and evaluation for IHB, said rigorous clinical studies are conducted to make sure vaccines are as safe and effective as possible.

“These vaccines are given when they’re given because of a vast amount of data suggesting the times and doses of each vaccine having optimal effect on children’s health,” Collins said.

Questions about childhood immunizations can be sent anytime before the chat to  Dha.ihbtwitter@mail.mil, and experts will be standing by to answer your questions during the event. Be sure to follow IHB at https://twitter.com/DHA_IHB.


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