Steve Krug, MD, FAAP

Steve Krug, MD, FAAP, is the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics disaster preparedness advisory council. Krug spoke to APHA about the relationship between emergency planning and infant vaccinations. Photo by AAP

National Infant Immunization Week is from April 20 – 27, focusing on improving the health of children 2 years old or younger. Immunizations can protect infants from 14 preventable diseases, including chickenpox, measles and the flu.

Immunizations are vital in preparing infants for numerous health emergencies, according to Steve Krug, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics disaster preparedness advisory council. In a conversation with Public Health Newswire, Krug discusses what parents must know before getting vaccinations for their infant children, the importance of taking “extra steps” to prevent health trauma, and how pediatricians choose the right immunizations for each infant’s special needs.

What should parents know before vaccinating their infants?

Pediatricians care about children’s health and safety. The recommended immunization schedule is the safest, most effective, and ideal schedule for most children. However, in some children certain vaccines may be delayed or not given at all. For example, a child might not receive certain vaccines if they are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, or if they have a weakened immune system due to illness, a chronic condition, or another medical treatment. Pediatricians stay updated about new exceptions to the immunization schedule. This is one reason a child’s complete medical history is taken at the pediatrician’s office, and why it is important for health care providers to be familiar with each child’s medical history. Each vaccine dose is scheduled using two factors. First, it is scheduled for the age when the body’s immune system will work the best with that particular vaccine. Second, it is balanced with the need to provide protection to infants and children at the earliest possible age. The recommended immunization schedule starts providing protection against diseases like whooping cough, rotavirus, and meningitis at 2 months. The vaccine schedule recommends immunizations at 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18 months, as well as through the sixth birthday. Parents can talk to their child’s pediatrician about when to schedule the child’s next appointment.

What is the relationship between infant immunization and emergency preparedness — and how do they continue to support strong public health systems?

Families can prepare for a public health emergency in many ways. In addition to having a personal preparedness plan, making sure immunizations are up to date is very important. Immunizations offer protection against preventable diseases and help children stay healthy.

In a public health emergency, pediatricians and others may need to provide care to those who need it the most, including those who are critically ill or injured. When children are healthy and families have a plan, they will be better prepared and less likely to need help in an emergency. Plus, they will not need to seek health care during a time when physicians are urgently needed elsewhere.

Immunization and personal preparedness are steps that promote day-to-day emergency readiness and build a stronger public health system.

How can immunizations protect infants from health emergencies including times when they are traveling with their families?

Infant immunization is a key part of preparing for emergencies. If there is a disaster, fully immunized children will be better protected from diseases like influenza (the flu) or pertussis (whooping cough) that may spread more easily when people are in close contact with each other. Also, protection against things like tetanus, would be especially important if children had to walk through debris from an earthquake or tornado.

There are recommended immunization schedules for infants, which prevent from many forms of diseases. Are these immunizations enough to protect young children in public health emergencies?

Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease and death. They not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases. For those babies born and immunized each year, 23 million cases of disease are prevented and over $100 million is saved in medical and societal costs. However, the extent to which children are protected in a public health emergency depends on the type of emergency. For example, the influenza vaccine can help protect people in an influenza outbreak or pandemic, for the most widely-circulated influenza viruses, but not all of them. In addition, in situations where there might be other infectious disease threats like anthrax, botulism, or smallpox, extra steps would need to be taken to ensure that children are protected. The AAP works together with many federal agencies and other organizations to ensure the right vaccines, medicines, and supplies are available for each type of disaster and emergency.