Immunization levels declined in March, April and May, but increased in June.

Here in Connecticut, things are getting better. Our COVID-19 statistics are continuing to hold steady with an infection rate just under 1%, and we are holding strong in Phase 2.  As you introduce normal things back into your daily routine or make your back-to-school list, please remember to get yourself and your children caught up on any outstanding vaccinations.

Vaccinate Your Family just released a poll of Connecticut voters.  We overwhelmingly support vaccines, but like so many things that are good for our health, vaccines are easy to put off.

As the world waits for a COVID vaccine, please remember there are other life-saving vaccines available to us.  These vaccines are safe and unequivocally endorsed by the mainstream medical community.  But these vaccines work best when we all take them – achieving “herd” or “community” immunity.  Conversely, low vaccination rates lead to outbreaks.  In 2018, the World Health Organization estimates that 140,000 people died worldwide from measles.  And the Northeast is hardly immune to these outbreaks.  In 2019, Rockland County New York had 312 confirmed cases of the measles. Here in Connecticut we had four confirmed measles cases.  Four cases may not sound like a lot, but in a state that has eradicated measles, that number should be zero.

There’s evidence that our current vaccination rates are suffering because of COVID. It is understandable.  We’ve all been on lockdown.  The last place anyone wants to go is to the doctor’s office.  However, pediatricians’ and doctors’ offices are doing lots of things to keep their patients safe and keep preventive care – including vaccinations – up-to-date.

I used to take vaccines for granted, but now I fully appreciate the gift that they are.

During the COVID stay-at-home orders, two of our children had well-child visits scheduled.  We moved heaven and earth to keep those appointments.  Our oldest seemed totally healthy to us, but the care provider detected some wheezing in his lungs.  The provider prescribed an inhaler, which got him breathing normally again. I was very relieved to get his lungs as healthy as possible, especially considering COVID seems to attack the respiratory system.  A few months later, I took our 18 month-old toddler in for his regularly scheduled well-baby exam and vaccines. I was grateful for the care both children received.

Our pediatrician’s office took many extra steps to make us safe and comfortable. Some of the office precautions included: no patients with a fever in the office, patients were immediately taken back to the exam room (no waiting rooms), all toys were removed, and care providers wore masks (as did I).  If you’re feeling nervous about returning to your healthcare provider, call them and ask them how they are keeping patients safe.  After all, patient care is their specialty.

I will admit, I am probably more pro-vaccine than most people.  Why? Well, shortly after our youngest child’s first birthday, he, Rory, contracted chickenpox.  Rory had over 400 lesions on his little body.  He was itchy and miserable, and I was powerless.  All we could do was let the disease run its course.  That was a terrible place to be as a mother – something I want to spare every parent and child from experiencing. Rory was not behind on his vaccines. He was one well-baby visit shy of the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine.  Since we were up-to-date on vaccines, I never thought one of our kids could get a vaccine-preventable disease.  But it turns out, doing our part wasn’t enough to protect our baby.  Herd immunity is also critical.

I used to take vaccines for granted, but now I fully appreciate the gift that they are.  And I think as a community, COVID has made the value of vaccines crystal clear.   But the focus on COVID has also obscured the need to stay current on the existing vaccination schedule.  I appreciate that schools are clamoring to keep my children safe from coronavirus, but I also want them to be safe from the measles, polio, and a host of vaccine preventable diseases when they return to school.  Once the COVID vaccine arrives, we can begin to talk about how to fully get back to normal.  But in the meantime, don’t forget the vaccines we enjoy today were once anxiously awaited.  And we have them, and so we should all get them if we are medically able.

So as Connecticut re-opens and as we get ready to return to school or work, please remember to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Get vaccines for you and your children. And then, feel free to make a reservation at your favorite outdoor dining venue.  Celebrate the good work our state has done on containing COVID and the scientific advancements of the past.

Kerri M. Raissian is Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut and a resident of Avon.

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