Not Just for Babies: The Critical Role Vaccines Play in Community Health

Life was turned upside down when COVID-19 arrived more than two years ago. There were a multitude of changes we had to make in terms of how we lived and moved around in our worlds, from work meetings transitioning from in-person to video calls, to masking up whenever we left the house.

The single most important development that allowed us to picture living more as we did pre-pandemic was the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. Being vaccinated drastically reduces the chances of being hospitalized or dying if you contract the virus, and now we’re fortunate that all children, from six months to 17 years of age can receive the vaccine.

I was very invested in becoming involved in the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau COVID-19 Vaccine Initiative. There were more than 20 vaccine clinics held, and we were able to vaccinate more than 14,000 community members. It’s hard to describe how impactful such an effort has been to our community wellbeing. We all know how virulent COVID-19 is, especially after knowing that more than one million died of COVID in America alone.

Although the COVID-19 vaccine has been what we have focused on primarily during this period, I want to highlight the importance of keeping up to date on all of our vaccines throughout our lives.

Important vaccines for babies and children include:

Starting at six months of age, children should receive an annual flu shot, and those should continue every year throughout adulthood.

When children are older, at around age 11 or 12, it’s imperative for them to receive an HPV shot, which protects them from the human papillomavirus, an STD that is linked to cervical cancer in women, and mouth and throat cancers in both men and women. They should also receive the meningococcal vaccine at this age.

If you’re an adult, it’s important to speak with your primary care physician about any boosters you may need, and adults age 65 or older should do the same, as well as make sure that they receive yearly flu shots, COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and the two pneumonia vaccines, PCV13 and PPSV23. Adults 50 and older should receive the shingles vaccine as well.

I know that some people question the safety of vaccines, for both their children and themselves. If you do have concerns, talk to your physician about them. Often they can explain what side effects are possible after receiving a vaccine, and how very rare serious ones are. Though the decision you make about vaccines affects you and your family, it also impacts our entire community.

Being vaccinated means that you’re not only protecting yourself, you’re protecting babies, older people, and individuals with compromised immune systems, like those undergoing cancer treatment. We must remember too, that we no longer have to worry about the threat of dreaded diseases like polio and smallpox, thanks to vaccines.

Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month, there’s no better time for you to take stock of what vaccines you and your family might need, and schedule an appointment to get them.

 

Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital. Neal is a proven leader with more than 30 years of progressive healthcare experience. Prior to his role at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, he held the position of Chief Executive Officer of Community Health Systems (CHS) and served as Chief Executive Officer of both Berwick Hospital Center in Berwick, Pennsylvania, and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Ronceverte, West Virginia. Tom has an MBA from the University of Louisville, MHA from the California College of Health Sciences, BSN from Regents College of New York and an ADN from Jefferson Community College.