August is National Immunization Awareness Month every year, which is perfect because children are heading back to school with many requiring vaccines.

The declaration of National Immunization Awareness Month is a public health initiative to remind us of the benefits of vaccination. It prompts us to protect ourselves and our families against serious diseases through the simple act of an injection in the arm.

We’re healthier today thanks to the scientific development of vaccinations. We’ve come a long way since the use of the first vaccine to prevent smallpox in 1796. There are now vaccines available to protect against 26 different diseases. The three greatest contributions to increasing the human life span are the production of clean water, the development of sanitary plumbing and the creation of vaccines. It’s widely felt that vaccines have saved more lives than all other medical interventions combined. That’s a powerful statement; we have vaccines that help to prevent us from getting some of the worst diseases known to man — polio, smallpox, pneumonia, measles, flu, meningitis, and cervical, oral and liver cancer just to name a few. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccination prevents 2 to 3 million deaths per year, and could prevent another 1.5 million annually if vaccination rates increased around the world.

Preventing illness has never been more crucial than it is today with rising insurance premiums, discussions of covering the un- or under-insured, and most importantly, avoiding illness. Contrary to what one may believe, natural infection isn’t better than vaccination. Vaccines provide the benefits of protection without feeling ill, and avoid the risk of hospitalization and death. Additionally, vaccines help decrease the need for antibiotics serving a major role in the battle against antibiotic resistance.

Vaccines aren’t just for children, but also for pre-teens, college students, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, and all adults ages 19 and older — which means everyone.

National Immunization Awareness Month is a great time for people of all ages to become engaged in keeping their community healthy. By getting yourself vaccinated, you aren’t only helping yourself stay healthy, but also those around you. Promoting vaccines doesn’t need to be solely done by a health care professional. For example, reminding family and friends about annual flu shots is a great way to help keep those you love healthy as well.

During National Immunization Awareness Month talk to your doctor, nurse or other health care professional to ensure that you, your child and your family are up to date on recommended vaccines.

Vaccine Smarts is written by Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences faculty members Drs. Megan Berman, an associate professor of internal medicine, and Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. For questions about vaccines, email vaccine.smarts@utmb.edu.

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