Protecting the Vulnerable: Educating Families about Immunizations

Marion County Commission on Youth

This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

Most parents would agree that they have many schedules to balance. You check the school schedule, work schedule, soccer schedule, PTA schedule, and so on. But there is another schedule that needs attention: the vaccine schedule.

Vaccines are a hot topic right now, and it is important to know what vaccines are, how they work, and which ones are recommended for different kids.

“Vaccines allow your body to safely recognize and learn to fight a disease before you are actually infected,” said Lisa Robertson, executive director of Indiana Immunization Coalition, an organization that educates individuals about vaccines throughout the human lifespan. “Vaccines introduce something that looks like the disease but is much safer. This allows the body to ‘practice’ fighting the disease and create antibodies, which can be used to fight off the real disease in the future.”

Amie Clemons, immunizations program manager at Marion County Public Health Department, agreed, noting that vaccines are a “biological preparation made from killed or weakened bacteria and viruses (germs). The vaccine is introduced into the body where the immune system reacts by producing antibodies. These antibodies destroy the ‘vaccine germ’ as if it was the actual disease. The antibodies then remain in the body, ready to fight off any future invasions by that same bacteria or virus. This is called immunity.”

According to Robertson, most families are following the recommended vaccine schedule, which describes the ages at which children should receive different vaccinations. Less than two percent of toddlers remain unvaccinated. Nevertheless, a conversation around immunizations is much needed.

“Some people have become concerned about the ingredients or possible side effects of vaccines,” said Robertson. “There are many false claims circulating about vaccines and it can be scary. But vaccines are safe and effective, and they’ve helped save millions of lives. It’s easy to forget that not too long ago…a half a million people worldwide died every year from polio, which we can now prevent through a vaccine.”

“Vaccine controversy is not exactly new,” said Clemons. “However, this generation of parents has never really seen the types of diseases that vaccines prevent. It is easier to dismiss the need for vaccines and the incredibly important role they have played in our society when you aren’t seeing children dying from these diseases on a regular basis. The irony is that much of this lack of wide-spread disease can be attributed to vaccines!

Vaccinations – or lack thereof – can have a significant impact on individuals, families, communities, and entire regions and countries.

Evan Kreutzer is a pediatrician for the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization that works with Hoosier pediatric providers and other groups to promote the recommended vaccination of children.

“Now that we are seeing pockets of people not vaccinating their children, we are actually seeing diseases that were once rare becoming more common,” said Kreutzer. He continued, saying that “the real tragedy of not vaccinating is that we are putting the youngest and sickest children at risk. There are kids who are not healthy enough to get vaccines and there are babies who are too young to be vaccinated. The whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine is a great example of this. It is given to children starting at two months of age. However, if a baby is exposed to someone with whooping cough (which, by the way, is extremely contagious), then there is a significant chance that [he or she] could die from the disease.”

Robertson explained that “vaccines are important not only for the person who receives the vaccines, but also for the community. When many people are vaccinated in a community it helps protect people who have vulnerable immune systems, like little babies and people with cancer or immunodeficiency diseases. These people depend on those around them to prevent outbreaks of serious, vaccine-preventable diseases. This is called ‘herd immunity,’ and it helps protect everyone in the community.”

Misinformation is rampant when it comes to the topic of immunizations, something medical professionals are trying hard to fight.

“Another issue impacting the discussion on vaccines right now is the availability of false or misleading information from a variety of sources which point to vaccines as being unhealthy,” said Clemons. “These claims are based on fear and anecdote rather than science or evidence. Once a claim has been made, no matter how inaccurate, it is very difficult to override it with the truth.”

“Vaccines themselves are not controversial,” said Kreutzer. “Controversy implies a large-scale disagreement or one in which there is evidence on both sides of an argument. There is no credible scientific evidence against vaccines. We live in a time of ‘fake news’ when it is easy for people with bad intentions to spread lies. We’ve all seen incredulous stories about vaccines harming people, but a quick review of these stories shows that they are simply not true. But, people still become fearful because of the falsehoods that are spread. This is truly sad. We have vaccines that prevent deadly illnesses, including cancer, and are incredibly safe and affordable. The bottom line is that nearly everybody vaccinates their children because parents and the entire scientific community recognize the safety and importance of vaccines.”

Education and credible resources can help families find the facts about complicated topics like immunizations. Parents should always consult with doctors they trust. Additionally, the following websites have been recommended:

For families who cannot afford vaccinations for their children, there are a few options.

“Vaccines are considered preventative medicine and are covered by major insurance companies and Medicaid,” said Robertson. “If children are uninsured, they can visit the local health department for no-cost vaccines.”

“Many of these families would be eligible for free or low-cost vaccines through one of our District Health Offices,” said Clemons. “We also offer vaccines at the Action Health Center, where children and adolescents can receive low-cost physicals and other health services. For more information, visit or call 317-221-2122.”

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