Childhood vaccines help protect our little ones

by Justin Willis

Her grandson was six weeks old and she brought him into the clinic for a Well Child check and his first set of immunizations. As I gave him his vaccinations, I noticed the grandmother was tearing up. I understand parents and guardians often get emotional seeing their child cry after immunizations so I reassured her that the mild pain he was feeling would soon resolve. She turned to me and said, “I am just so happy he is finally protected.” Her tears were those of joy.

She told me about times before childhood immunizations when there was widespread disease among children and that she was grateful that her grandson had started his journey toward protection. Moments like this are some of my most cherished from my time in the Delta. Elders know the importance of caring for the little ones in order to keep the community strong and healthy.

My name is Justin Willis and I am one of the pediatricians at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. Preventing disease in children is my passion and childhood immunizations are an important way to protect our little ones against serious disease. I am writing to urge everyone to make sure their children’s immunizations are up to date.

Over the last two years, the childhood immunization rates in the YK Delta have fallen dramatically, particularly for children under the age of 2. Because of low immunization rates, we have started to see vaccine preventable diseases in our communities. I am concerned that we are going to start seeing worsening disease unless the childhood immunization rates improve.

The childhood vaccine schedule is safe and carefully designed by medical experts with young immune systems in mind. Childhood vaccines start at birth with the first vaccine against hepatitis B, a bloodborne infection that can cause serious harm to the liver. At 6-to-8 weeks of age, the child receives vaccines that protect against some brain infections, pneumonias, blood infections, ear infections, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, hepatitis B and a diarrheal infection called rotavirus. These immunizations are repeated at 4 months and 6 months to help the child’s immune system build greater protection. Immunizations against chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis A are given to children at one year old. Additional immunization boosters for tetanus, whooping cough, and hepatitis A are scheduled at 15 and 18 months. Between 4 to 6 years and 11 to 18 years, kids are due for their final childhood vaccinations.

Vaccines at YKHC are free and available to every child. Immunization records are tracked at YKHC to ensure that your child gets the appropriate immunizations at each visit. If your child is behind the recommended vaccines schedule, providers at YKHC will help you get them caught up and protected. YKHC healthcare providers desperately want to partner with you to make sure your kids start strong and stay up to date with childhood vaccines.

We must all act to make sure that our children are protected. Call your local clinic today to schedule an appointment for vaccinations and a Well Child visit. In Bethel, call 907-543-6442. As we improve our childhood immunization rates and protect our children, we can all share in the sense of relief that the grandmother felt when her grandson was immunized, that we are protecting our children and our community.

Justin Willis, MD

Pediatrician, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation