Parents and caregivers will greet the month of August with a renewed interest in their child’s immunization history. Immunization records will be a ticket of entry for hundreds of Arizona children entering school for the first time, or returning for a new school year. It is a time that we at the March of Dimes cherish and that coincides with National Immunization Month, Aug. 1–31.

This back to school season creates a new window of opportunity to improve our state’s immunizations rates, which are behind the national average: 70 percent compared to the Center for Disease Control 90 percent recommendation.

And when it comes to infectious disease, caregivers are the first line of defense for their children. Keeping good records and staying on top of pending vaccines, from birth to school age, keeps children out of the hospital and fully immunized against deadly infections like pneumococcal disease, pertussis (whooping cough) and measles.

And while it’s difficult to fathom such diseases, if immunization rates begin to falter, it places entire societies at their mercy.

According to March of Dimes, immunizations are one of the best ways to avoid serious diseases caused by viruses or bacteria. But, in order for vaccines to be most effective, everyone needs to get their immunizations. Remember: The more people who are immunized, the less the risk of serious illness for everyone. If parents don’t have their children immunized, they place all children - and their community - at risk.

Health experts constantly review immunizations for safety. When needed, they change how the immunizations are made or when they are given. Vaccines are regularly studied to make sure they are safe and effective.

In fact, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, throughout the past decade cases of pertussis (whooping cough) have increased across Arizona with hundreds of cases reported annually. In February 2008 an outbreak of measles occurred in Pima County, which was declared a public health emergency and could have been avoided. Death of even one child from a vaccine-preventable disease is unacceptable.

Consequently, keeping immunizations up to date in children is critical. In the U.S., 31 percent of American 2-year-olds are not fully immunized against diseases to which they are vulnerable. In Arizona, 30 percent of young children are under-immunized and unprotected.

And Arizona is among one of the 15 remaining states where school and child care entry requirements are not directly aligned with the Centers for Disease Control National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, placing our state far below the national immunization standard of 90 percent.

This means that one in four Arizona children fall short on the recommended immunizations.

When it comes to protecting public health, public participation in immunization programs is extremely important. It is simple: The more people immunized, the less the risk of exposure to and from vaccine-preventable diseases and infections.

Collective action results in herd or community immunity. It’s been proven that when immunization levels have dropped in various populations, otherwise preventable infectious diseases have made dramatic comebacks. Pertussis and measles vaccine levels should approach 94 percent before herd immunity becomes effective.

The March of Dimes and its affiliated physicians welcome the back to school season and National Immunization Month, with great hope. It means renewed interest in protecting Arizona children and their future.

We know that parents, doctors, schools and the public health system are ready to do their part, assuring that every child’s vaccinations are completely up to date and compliant with current recommendations set by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). To read more about National Immunization Month and immunization standards, visit

• Beth Mulcahy, MPH, is the state director of program services for March of Dimes.

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