State Health Commissioner Urges Parents to Update Children's Immunizations Before School Begins

Cites Increase in Mumps Cases Spread by International Travelers; Cases of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Remain High

ALBANY, NY (Aug. 19, 2010) - With children returning to school soon, State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today urged all parents to make sure their children's immunizations are up to date.

"Getting immunized is critical to protect the health of our families and our communities and to prevent serious disease," said Commissioner Daines. "Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to diseases such as measles and whooping cough that can be prevented with vaccinations."

"The tremendous success of vaccines in eliminating widespread disease in the U.S. may have spawned public complacency," Dr. Daines said. "We should not forget that it was not all that many years ago that diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and pertussis (whooping cough) caused serious illness and sometimes death. These diseases are still active, particularly in countries that lack effective immunization programs."

"The benefits of immunization against mumps, pertussis and other diseases are among the most significant public health achievements of our time," said Guthrie Birkhead, M.D., MPH, Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Public Health for the State Health Department (DOH) and Chair of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. "Recent cases serve as a reminder that vaccine-preventable diseases can and still do occur."

Cases of some diseases have increased in recent years. In 2005, there were only 314 cases of mumps reported in the entire United States. But in 2009, an outbreak that began at a children's summer camp in upstate New York in June resulted in more than 3,500 people in New York and New Jersey becoming sick with the mumps. Many of these cases involved children and teenagers between the ages of 7 and 18. The outbreak began when an 11-year-old boy attended the summer camp after traveling in the United Kingdom, where he contracted the mumps virus.

"This mumps outbreak should serve to alert parents that even if a disease is not common to New York it may be circulating outside the United States," said Dr. Birkhead. "Unvaccinated children are at increased risk when traveling to areas where a virus is active and can become infected and bring the virus home. Having children immunized protects everyone by making sure these diseases do not become active in our communities."

State law requires that all children enrolled in schools, day care and pre-kindergarten be immunized against mumps. The state immunization schedule recommends that the measles vaccination be administered as part of a measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) combination at ages 12 months to 15 months and again at ages 4 years to 6 years.

Another vaccine-preventable disease - pertussis- is being reported at high levels in New York, with 163 cases of pertussis reported in New York to date this year compared with 88 cases reported in the first half of 2009. In California seven infants have died this year related to a pertussis epidemic that has affected more than 2,100 persons. This is a six-fold increase in the number of cases of pertussis reported in California for the same period last year. To date, there have been no infant deaths associated with pertussis in New York.

"Since pertussis is most dangerous in children under age one, who are too young to have completed the full series of immunizations, it is very important that their older siblings are fully vaccinated so that pertussis is not brought home," said Dr. Daines. "Pertussis is primarily spread from person to person by direct contact with mucus or droplets from the nose and throat of infected individuals and can be easily spread to infants by older children."

Children must be vaccinated against pertussis as part of a diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) combined vaccine at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12-18 months, and 4 to 6 years.

In addition, a new state law requires that children 11 years old and entering sixth grade be vaccinated against pertussis with a vaccine referred to as Tdap, since childhood protection from earlier vaccination fades over time. Adults can also be vaccinated against pertussis to help provide protection for infants who are not old enough to be vaccinated.

Vaccine safety has been a concern for some parents due to claims in the media of a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The medical and scientific communities have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the evidence and have found no association between vaccine and autism. The safety of all vaccines is thoroughly studied before they are licensed for public use, and there is a strong system in place to help scientists monitor the safety of vaccines.

Like any medicine, vaccines can cause mild side effects. Serious adverse events from vaccines are rare. Parents should seek out vaccine information from reputable sources, such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices.

Dr. Birkhead urged parents to schedule their children's immunization appointments now to ensure they are vaccinated in time for fall school entry. Certain immunizations are required and recommended for children ages 6 months through 18 years of age in order to attend school. Children who are behind in their vaccinations can still be brought up to date. The child's shot records should be brought to their immunization appointment.

The New York State Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule and Immunization Requirements for School Entrance Attendance are available on the DOH Web site at www.nyhealth.gov/prevention/immunization/childhood_and_adolescent.htm.