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Get kids and teens vaccinated before the start of school

This year, the United States is on pace to have the most cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, in five decades. There have been 18,000 reported cases this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Minnesota is one of the states reporting high numbers of whooping cough, and it's preventable by vaccines.

A group of medical and educational organizations in Minnesota have recently collaborated to send a message to parents:  Get your children vaccinated before the school year starts.  The Children's Physician Network, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Head Start Association, Immunization Action Coalition, and the School Nurse Organization of Minnesota are working together to raise awareness as part of August's National Immunization Awareness Month.

"Children under the age of one are the ones most likely to suffer serious complications and even death from pertussis," said Dr. Peter Dehnel of the Children's Physician Network.  "About 50 percent of babies who get it are hospitalized."

Minnesota child wellness experts report that an increasing number of parents are delaying or skipping immunizations for their infants and children. 

While Minnesota's school immunization laws ensure that most students are vaccinated, some parents in the state are opting out. 

Schools are highly susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases such as influenza, whooping cough, meningitis, and measles because students can easily transmit illnesses to one another as a result of poor hand washing, uncovered coughs, and dense populations in schools. 

"Immunization is one of the greatest success stories in public health and one of the best decisions parents can make to protect their children," said Dehnel.  "For families that have fallen behind the recommended schedule, it is never too late to get caught up."

Many parents have never witnessed the damaging effects of vaccine-preventable disease.  As a result, they are not aware of the importance of getting vaccinated. According to the CDC, routine child immunizations in the United States prevent an estimated 33,000 deaths and save $43 billion in societal costs each year.

The need to maintain high vaccination rates is not limited to young children.  While the majority of recommended immunizations are administered early in life, experts say many parents often overlook recommended vaccines for their teenagers and themselves. 

Many Minnesota clinics are part of a program called Minnesota Vaccines for Children (MnVFC), which will cover the cost of the vaccines for children through age 18 who are on medical assistance or are uninsured. MnVFC distributes about $39 million worth of vaccines to public and private clinics in Minnesota each year.

Locally, clinics that participate in this program include Otter Tail County Public Health (clinics in Fergus Falls and New York Mills), Henning Medical Clinic, Ottertail Area Medical Clinic and Sanford Clinic in Pelican Rapids. 

"Parents need to vaccinate their teenagers for the diseases of meningitis, influenza, and whooping cough," said Mary B. Heiman, president of the School Nurse Organization of Minnesota.  "There is a lot of attention focused on childhood vaccinations, but it's equally important for teens to be immunized through the age of 18 in order to protect themselves and their peers."   

Immunization schedules

The CDC's recommended immunization schedule includes:

-Children from birth through six years old: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), IPV (polio), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), varicella (chicken pox), PCV (pneumococcal disease), hepatitis A and hepatitis B, rotavirus, influenza, and Haemophilus (Hib)

-Children ages seven to 18: Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), MCV (meningococcal), influenza, and HPV (human papillomavirus)

Where to get vaccinated

-Doctors' offices/medical clinics


-Urgent care facilities (not all)

-Walk-in clinics (not all)

-Health departments (not all)

 Getting vaccines at the right ages is important, but it is never too late to catch up.  See the official recommendations for children and teenagers at: