A Healthy Start: Five Reasons to Encourage Families to Vaccinate Their Children

logo for national immuinization awareness month 2016

By Marco Beltran and Adriann Hawkins

August brings the end of summer and the return of young children to early childhood settings across the country. Many early childhood educators may not know that August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). It is a time to remind parents and early childhood providers that children need vaccines right from the start.

Head Start health managers, family service workers, and home visitors are key to engaging families in health promotion. From the beginning of the program year, these staff work to ensure that enrolled children are up-to-date on schedule of immunizations, well child visits, and ongoing medical care. As Head Start and Early Head Start programs partner with new and returning families in developing healthy and safe practices, staff can also share the following five reasons families should keep their children up-to-date on immunizations.

  1. Immunizations can save a child's life. Because of advances in medical science, a child can be protected against more diseases than ever before. Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children are no longer common in the United States—primarily due to safe and effective vaccines. Polio, for example, was once America's most feared disease, causing death and paralysis across the country. Today, thanks to vaccination, there are no reports of polio in the United States.
  2. Vaccination is safe and effective. Vaccines are only given to children after a long and careful review by scientists and health professionals. Although vaccines may initially cause a child some discomfort or tenderness at the site of injection, serious side effects following vaccination, such as a severe allergic reaction, is very rare. It may help to remind parents that the temporary discomfort a child feels now outweighs the condition the vaccine is made to prevent.
  3. Immunization protects those we care about. Children in the United States still get vaccine-preventable diseases. In fact, there has been a resurgence of whooping cough (pertussis) over the past few years. Babies who are too young to be vaccinated are particularly vulnerable. Share with parents that keeping babies and young children safe and protected from vaccine-preventable diseases also means that all family members who are able to get vaccinated should be fully immunized.
  4. Immunizations can save Head Start families time and money. Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in missed program days or prolonged disabilities. These preventable diseases can also take a financial toll on families because of lost time at work and medical bills. However, the cost of getting vaccinated is usually covered by insurance, such as Medicaid or the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which is a federally-funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children from low-income families.
  5. Immunization protects future generations. Vaccines have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. For example, the smallpox vaccination eradicated the disease worldwide. If we all work together to get children vaccinated, the children of our current infants, toddlers, and preschoolers may be able to trust that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm the ones they love.

So, as program staff share with families important messages about health and safety this August, let us not forget to include one of the best ways to protect children is through vaccinations.

This blog was compiled from resources from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Marco Beltran, Dr.PH, is a Senior Program Specialist and Adriann Hawkins, MPH, RN, is a Senior Policy Analyst for the Office of Head Start.