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NEWS | Dec. 2, 2013

Vaccinations help protect children, families

By Senior Airman Connor Estes 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

For some parents, watching their child receive vaccinations can be painful, making visiting the Allergy and Immunization clinic at U.S. Air Force Hospital Langley a nervous experience.

Even though shots may hurt both child and parent, the benefits outweigh the pain, as vaccines are integral to assuring the health of children and their communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, polio paralyzed approximately 37,000 people and killed 1,700 each year in the 1950s. Thanks to an effective vaccine, the U.S. has not had a reported case of polio since 1979.

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Ephrain Alvarez, 633rd Medical Operations Squadron Allergy and Immunization Clinic noncommissioned officer in charge, said without vaccinations, diseases can re-emerge, as witnessed by a recent outbreak of polio confirmed among children in Syria.

"You have to look at [receiving vaccinations] as if you're doing the greater good," said Alvarez. "Vaccines have pretty much eradicated smallpox and polio, and significantly reduced measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis and other diseases. So the question is, 'Why not get your child vaccinated?'"

Despite these facts, a rising number of parents have refused or delayed shots because of perceived safety concerns, said Alvarez.

"One of the main vaccines parents don't want their children to have is the flu shot, unless it's mandatory, which it is if you plan to use the Child Development Center on base," said Senior Airman Catherine Settles, 633rd MDOS Allergy and Immunization technician. "A lot of [parents' reservations] have to do with things they read online, making them think it does more harm than good."

Settles explained vaccines are weakened and diminished replicates of a virus or bacteria, which helps the body recognize and overcome the infection. Afterward, the body creates antibodies to build immunity against the disease.

Alvarez said parents' reasons for avoiding shots can vary. Some may doubt the vaccine's necessity, fear the potential risks or find it easier to avoid waiting rooms and paperwork.

While parents have the option to not immunize their children, Alvarez said unvaccinated children put others at risk. If an outbreak begins in an unvaccinated group of children, a vaccinated child may still be at risk.

"We're here to inform and educate families on the importance of immunizations and the risks [of not being vaccinated]," said Alvarez. "We will do all we can to accommodate the child and parent, and ensure the experience goes smoothly."

Alvarez reminds parents the clinic is prepped and ready before a child arrives. The clinic sees patients on a walk-in basis only, and while wait times vary based on clinic traffic,  the vaccination normally takes just a few seconds.

Although the pain is temporary, Alvarez said he understands it can be difficult for parents to see their child hurting.

"It's tough to watch your child get a shot, so we do everything we can to make it quick," said Alvarez. "Three seconds of pain is worth your child being protected for the long term."

For more information, call the Allergy and Immunization Clinic at 764-6985