For those of us who stick around Morgantown during the summer months, it feels like an entirely different town before school is back in session. You can find a parking spot at the Suncrest Kroger; you can get an Uber downtown for less than $20 on a Saturday night. You can drive down Beechurst without getting stuck in stand-still traffic for an hour.
That’s all changing now that school is starting again. Morgantown’s population is going up and the median age is going down, which means there are more people almost everywhere you go.
Combine this with the start of cold and flu season, and you probably have a pretty good chance of catching something this fall, even if you don’t go to school.
That might be why August is known as National Immunization Awareness Month, a time to remind people – students, parents and everyone else – of the importance of vaccinations.
The COVID-19 pandemic might have overshadowed the less-talked about, but just as important, vaccine-preventable illnesses such as measles, chickenpox, pertussis and diphtheria.
It’s no secret that vaccine distrust has grown in the last few years, and we might be seeing some devastating effects of that now with a disease that was previously considered old news: polio.
Just last month, a man in Rockland County, New York, was diagnosed with polio, which has been gone from the United States for nearly 30 years. He was left with paralysis. The virus had been detected in the local wastewater system.
Polio was a terrifying possibility in the early 1900s, especially during the largest outbreak which happened in New York City in 1918. An illness that still has no cure and no treatment, polio could come on with no symptoms. If you weren’t killed by polio, you could be left paralyzed or placed in an iron lung. The world was in need of a vaccine.
Enter Jonas Salk, a virologist and medical researcher who, in 1955, made public the first successful vaccine against polio. Salk chose not to patent the vaccine, nor did he seek any profit from it, which helped with worldwide distribution.
Nearly 60 years later, Salk’s work is just as important as ever, and all children should be vaccinated against polio. And while the majority of the population has been vaccinated against polio as children, the number of vaccinated individuals has dropped since 2019.
While it’s unlikely that polio will make a comeback in Monongalia County, there are plenty of vaccine-preventable illnesses that post a very real threat for our community. Take the incident in 2019, when there was concern about a case of hepatitis A in a food worker at an area restaurant. Monongalia County Health Department worked to vaccinate individuals who had eaten there during a certain window of time.
And even though we’re all tired of hearing about COVID, the threat of getting sick is still present. Cases are on the rise in West Virginia and can only be expected to keep going up with the return of the student population. Just last week, my partner and I tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time. We’re both fully vaccinated, but the virus was still enough to put a halt on our lives for a little while. My partner even had to miss the first week of school.
If you’re a parent, you don’t want your child to get sick. The CDC offers an easy-to-read guide on vaccinations that babies should receive from infanthood to the age of 6. These are the mandated vaccines that the state of West Virginia requires students to get in order to attend public school.
For children who have been vaccinated according to the current schedule, here is a list provided by the CDC of recommended vaccines for students between the ages of 7 and 18:
• All preteens and teens need a flu vaccine every year. Some children 6 months through 8 years of age require two doses of flu vaccine. Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season. The first dose should be taken as soon as the flu vaccine is available, and the second dose should be received at least 28 days after the first dose. In following years, only one dose is needed. Flu vaccines are always important, but vitally so now.
In addition to an annual flu vaccine, three vaccines are recommended specifically for preteens:
• HPV vaccine protects against HPV infections that can cause cancer later in life, including that of the cervix, for which women can be routinely screened, as well as mouth/throat, anus/rectum, penis, vagina or vulva, for which people are not routinely screened.
• Tdap is a booster shot to help protect preteens from whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria. Tdap not only protects the child from these diseases, but also keeps them from giving whooping cough to a young baby who does not have immunity yet.
• Meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against meningitis and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia). These illnesses can be very serious, even fatal.
Vaccines are vital, not just for children and students, but for everyone. Call your health care provider or make an appointment at Monongalia County Health Department’s Clinical Services at 304-598-5119.