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Influenza, Measles, and Tetanus: Preventing the Spread of Life-Threatening Diseases during Disasters and Every Day

Author: ASPR/OPP Division of Policy and Strategic Planning
Published Date: 8/9/2017 9:52:00 AM
Category: National Health Security; Public Health Preparedness;

Over the years vaccines have prevented countless cases of disease and saved millions of lives. Routine vaccination protects people from 18 dangerous or deadly diseases. There are many reasons to stay up-to-date on your vaccinations and to make sure that your family members get vaccinated, but here’s one that you might not have thought of: vaccination can help keep you healthy when disaster strikes.

Immunizations are especially important in the wake of disasters for residents who have to evacuate their homes. In any public place, you’ll be exposed to illnesses of other people, and that’s the case in emergency shelters, too. Also after disasters, safe water or sanitation facilities may be unavailable; you may have uncertain access to health care services. The underlying health of the community can influence the risk of communicable diseases after a disaster. Epidemics after natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and drought can build rapidly or slowly, with serious health, social, and economic consequences. Staying up to date with your vaccines could make all the difference in keeping you and your family healthy after a disaster.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a great time to learn about the vaccines you and your family need to stay healthy. People of all ages benefit from immunizations, and they are particularly important for people who are most vulnerable to serious complications, such as infants and young children, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems.

Adults

Staying up-to-date on vaccines is important for adults, especially for medical providers and first responders who are on the front lines during emergencies. Vaccinations can reduce the risk of illness, disability, and death due to vaccine preventable diseases so you’re healthy and available to serve your community when you’re needed most.

The prevalence of vaccine-preventable illnesses is actually higher for adults than it is for children. Despite long-standing recommendations, many adults – particularly older adults – just don’t get the vaccines they need to prevent illness.

Immunity from childhood vaccines can wear off over time. Even healthy adults can become seriously ill and pass diseases on to others. Immunizations are the key to stopping preventable diseases before they start.

While most adults should get an annual flu vaccine and get a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis or whooping cough) vaccine every ten years, the vaccines adults need vary pretty widely, depending on your age, occupation, travel, medical conditions, vaccinations you have already received, or other considerations.

Pregnant Women

Vaccines are essential to a healthy pregnancy, protecting both the mother and her baby from illnesses and complications. Women should be up to date on their vaccinations before becoming pregnant. Most women should receive vaccines against both flu and whooping cough during pregnancy – and so should the people who will be around the baby, such as the father and grandparents. Some women may need to receive vaccines after giving birth.

Babies and Children

Childhood immunizations are critical to protecting everyday health – but they are even more important in the wake of a disaster.

For the best protection, parents should follow the recommended immunization schedule – giving children the vaccines they need, when they need them. Babies receive vaccinations that help protect them from 14 diseases by age 2.

After age 2, children still are recommended to receive a yearly flu vaccine, and children are due for additional doses of some vaccines between 4 and 6 years of age. However, if a child falls behind schedule, they can still get vaccinated to “catch-up” before adolescence. By following recommended immunization schedules through early childhood and into the preteen and teen years, parents can send their kids to middle school, high school and college assured that they are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases and better prepared for a disaster.

Take the Next Step

Talk to your doctor, local community clinic, pharmacist, or other health care provider to find out which vaccinations you and your family need, and then make sure you keep them up to date. Before you go, take the time to learn about vaccines and immunizations that are available so that you are ready to discuss the options that give the best protection to you and your family during disasters and every day.

To learn more about national health security, visit www.phe.gov/nhss.


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