It was a typical Tuesday in my former job as chair of surgery at Temple University in Philadelphia, but that morning I felt sluggish. Although I wasn’t feeling well, I knew I had three surgical operations to perform that morning followed by an afternoon full of meetings.
I trudged out of my apartment and started the 15-minute drive to work.
A few miles into my commute, a feeling of illness suddenly enveloped me. I had to pull over and call my chief resident to cancel the morning’s surgeries.
I turned the car around and headed back home to bed. The next three days were a blur of sore throat and fever; it was the first time I’d had the flu, and I swore that I would never endure that experience again.
This month is National Immunization Awareness Month, which is observed annually and highlights the importance of immunizations for people of all ages.
As all things back to school begin, parents need to make sure their children’s immunizations are up to date. Ensuring a child is protected from vaccine-preventable illnesses is just as important as making sure they have pencils, paper and other classroom essentials.
We are frequently reminded that flu vaccination is very important for school-age children, who can quickly spread illnesses to one another due to behaviors like not covering their coughs. Frequent hand washing is also important for reducing the spread of illnesses and is something that many children do not do often enough.
However, it is important to remember there are other diseases, like measles, mumps and meningococcal disease, which also affect children in the United States, even though they are vaccine-preventable.
Immunizations are important for adults as well. For example, adults should get vaccinated to protect their health against tetanus and diphtheria every 10 years, and pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy, which also protects against pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.
Adults 60 and older are encouraged to receive the shingles vaccine every five years. Meanwhile, pneumococcal vaccination protects against potentially fatal diseases like pneumonia, pneumococcal meningitis and sepsis.
Immunization is especially important for older adults and for adults with chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes or heart disease.
Immunization is also important for anyone who is in close contact with the very young or aged, people with weakened immune systems and those who cannot be vaccinated.
Although getting vaccinated can sometimes cause redness and discomfort where administered, vaccinations are safe and effective, and their benefits far outweigh the possible side effects.
Understanding vaccines and knowing which immunizations you and your family need is an essential step toward protecting yourself and your community. If you or your children are not up-to-date on your vaccination schedule, make an appointment with your primary care physician today.
After what happened that Tuesday in Philadelphia, I make sure that I get all recommended vaccinations. You should too.
Selwyn Rogers is the chief medical officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.