By BOB LAMENDOLA
Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties have revved up their immunization campaigns to help parents who do not have their children vaccinated by their family doctors. Special events and expanded efforts are underway.
“One of the most important things parents can do is to protect their children against diseases by having them fully immunized,” says Dr. Paula Thaqi, Health Officer of DOH-Broward. “Vaccines have helped us wipe out diseases that used to kill our children by the thousand.”
Public schools open on August 18. Florida law says children cannot start school unless they are up-to-date on six vaccinations that protect against nine contagious and potentially fatal childhood diseases. Every year, parents and school officials get headaches when children cannot be admitted due to missing vaccinations.
To help, the DOH gives free immunizations paid for by the federal Vaccines for Children program:
DOH-Broward – All recommended immunizations are offered at DOH health centers. A back-to-school event for immunizations runs until Aug.19 at Lauderhill Mall, 1299E NW 40 Ave. The highlight will be an outreach event and health fair at the mall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16. For details, visit browardchd.org/vaccinations.aspx or call 954-467-4705.
DOH-Palm Beach – Immunizations are offered at DOH health centers and by a mobile van. For hours and locations, visit pbchd.com/imunz/immunization.html or call 561-840-4568.
DOH-Miami-Dade – Immunizations are offered at DOH health centers. A back-to-school event is set for Aug. 16. For hours and locations, visit dadehealth.org/immuniz/IMMUNIZintro.asp or call 786-845-0550.
Immunizations are especially important for children entering kindergarten and seventh grade, since different requirements kick in at those grade levels. DOH gives children all required vaccinations, including:
•Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) – The DTaP vaccine given to babies and preschoolers in four to five doses protects against the three bacterial diseases. One additional dose, called Tdap, is given before seventh grade.
- Polio – A vaccine given to babies and preschoolers in three to five doses protects against the virus. Polio can lead to paralysis and death, but the vaccine has eliminated it from the United States.
- Measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) – The MMR vaccine given to babies and preschoolers in two doses protects against viruses that cause the three respiratory diseases.
- Chickenpox – A vaccine given to babies and preschoolers in two doses protects against the varicella virus that causes chickenpox. One additional dose is given by the start of seventh grade. In
adults, the virus can re-emerge and cause the painful skin condition called shingles.
- Hepatitis B – A vaccine given to babies in three doses protects against the virus, which can cause liver damage, chronic disease, cancer or even death.
South Florida has been successful in vaccinating children for school. State figures show that in Broward County, 93.6 percent of kindergarteners and 96.6 percent of seventh graders were fully immunized last school year. Vaccination rates in Palm Beach County were 92.4 percent and 97 percent, and in Miami-Dade County, 92 percent and 94.9 percent.
However, DOH back-to-school events may not provide all childhood immunizations recommended by federal health officials. Those not given may include vaccines against flu (every year starting at age six months), rotavirus (three doses for babies), Haemophilus influenzae B (three to four doses for babies), pneumococcal disease (four doses for babies), hepatitis A (two doses for babies), human papilloma virus (three doses at age 11 or older) and meningococcal disease (two doses at age 11 or older).
Talk to your family doctor about those vaccines. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requires health insurers to cover all the recommended vaccines for free, although some doctors charge for an office visit to give vaccines.
Bob LaMendola is in community affairs at the Florida Department of Health in Broward County. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org