April 18 - 25 is National Infant Immunization Week, and this year the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) Shots for Tots program is partnering with Louisiana Walmart stores to promote infant immunization. Each Walmart pharmacy will display a banner promoting the importance of getting immunized and include immunization schedules as inserts in all prescriptions filled during the week.

"Walmart has really stepped up to the plate to help raise awareness about the importance of infant immunizations," said Louisiana Shots for Tots coordinator Henry Homs. "We appreciate what they're doing and expect their actions will have a positive effect for our state's health."

Each year during National Infant Immunization Week, Louisiana Immunization Programs work with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to name the CDC Childhood Immunization Champion for Louisiana. This year's champion is Dr. Robert Blereau from Morgan City, who is being recognized for his passion in treating generations of families with vaccinations. His and his staff's commitment to promoting vaccination has led to a consistent immunization rate of more than 90 percent in their patients.

"Through the Childhood Immunization Champion awards, CDC and the State of Louisiana proudly acknowledge Dr. Robert Blereau's passion, hard work and commitment to children's health," said Dr. Frank Welch, Louisiana LDH Immunization Medical Director.

DHH's immunization programs educate parents and providers to protect infants and toddlers from vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines have drastically reduced infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases in the Louisiana and the United States. Immunizations lend a power of protection for infants. Louisiana continues to work towards the Healthy People goal, targeted for 90 percent of children to receive all recommended early childhood immunizations by 2020.

"Each day, parents have to make choices about the well-being of their children," said LDH Secretary Kathy H. Kliebert. "Vaccines prevent unnecessary illness and suffering from various diseases, especially in the very young children who are most at risk."

Healthy People, a national objective for improving the health of all Americans, recognizes the importance and lists vaccines among the most cost-effective clinical preventative services. Vaccines are given to help the body protect against disease. Infectious diseases are a critical public health concern, and coordinated efforts for vaccinations will protect communities across the state and nation.

Various immunizations protect infants and children from disease by helping their bodies build up a defense system for when a real version of the disease becomes present. Most shots need to be given several times to provide protection. The most recent National Immunization Survey (NIS) for 19 to 35 months was released in September 2014 and covers the period of January through December of the previous year. Louisiana's primary series (4:3:1:3:3:1:4) for children  in the same age range is 27th out of 53 states and U.S. territories including the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The figure estimates 72 percent coverage for the combination of 4Dtap, 3+Polio, 1+MMR, 3 or 4 doses of Hib, 3+HepB, 1+varicella and 4+PCV for 2-year-old children in Louisiana.

"Vaccinations are an essential component in the healthy lifestyle of our children," said Dr. Welch. "Public health and medical professionals base their vaccine recommendations on several factors. They study information about diseases and vaccines very carefully to decide which vaccines children should get and when they should get them for best protection."

Research from the CDC shows vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease and death. They not only help protect vaccinated individuals but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases. Among children born from 1994 to 2013, vaccinations will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes.

National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), April 18 - 25, is an annual observance highlighting the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrating the achievements of immunization programs and their partners in promoting healthy communities. Children are most susceptible to vaccine-preventable illnesses during their infant years. The vision of Louisiana's Immunization Program is that 90 percent of all children are immunized with their primary series, which can be viewed below, by age 2.

Vaccines may protect infants and children from these diseases:

Polio, Mumps, Measles, Chickenpox, Whooping Cough, Bacterial Meningitis, Pneumococcal, Diphtheria, Lock Jaw, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Influenza, Rubella and Rotovirus.

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides vaccines to children who are underinsured or whose parents or guardians may not be able to afford them.  The VCF program helps children get their vaccines according to the recommended immunization schedule and has contributed directly to a substantial increase in childhood immunization coverage levels, making a significant contribution to the elimination of disparities in vaccination coverage among young children.

Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child

  1. Immunizations can save your child's life.
  2. Vaccination is very safe and effective.
  3. Immunizations protect others you care about.
  4. Immunizations can save your family time and money.
  5. Immunization protects future generations.

The CDC also shows that when parents choose not to vaccinate or to follow a delayed schedule, children are left unprotected against diseases that still circulate in this country, such as measles and whooping cough. For example, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough were reported in the United States in 2012. During this time, 20 deaths have been reported-the majority of which were in children younger than 3 months of age.

"This week is a great opportunity to celebrate the critical role vaccination plays in protecting children, communities and public health," said LDH Assistant Secretary for Public Health J.T. Lane. "Vaccinating children on time is the best way to protect them against 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases before their second birthday."

Immunization is a shared responsibility. Families, healthcare professionals and public health officials must work together to help protect the entire community. Two great resources for finding out where children can receive vaccinations are www.partnersforhealthybabies.org and www.shotsfortots.com.

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's Twitter account and Facebook.