August is National Immunization Awareness Month. It is a month dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of vaccinations for people of all ages.
The start of a new school year is around the corner for local students. Seeing their friends means sharing stories about what happened over the summer, but being back together can also mean sharing germs.
"Out of all of the medical inventions and discoveries we’ve had throughout the history of medicine, immunizations are perhaps the most effective at disease prevention and control," said Dr. Joe Behn of Family Medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.
Behn says the goal of immunization is to get vaccinated before exposure to a disease.
"We immunize for various illnesses some which historically we have been very successful at almost eradicating the presence of," he said. "So, a lot of people may not understand that there’s still a lot of impact from them."
For some students, getting vaccines is part of a back-to-school checklist; however, a list of vaccines is required by state law. The Wisconsin Student Immunization Law first passed in July 1975. It requires students to be vaccinated against a list of diseases at certain ages by the start of a new school year. Written evidence of immunization must be submitted to the school. Parents can sign a waiver to prevent their student from immunization by citing religious or health reasons.
"We have a lot of ground that we’ve made over the last hundred years on vaccines," Behn said. "It is, in my opinion, probably the best single intervention that we’ve had with acquiring health for not only the individual but also the community as a whole."
Local health officials urge parents to make immunization a priority.
"We just want people to know the importance," said Bryany Weigel of the Coulee Region Immunization Coalition. "Vaccines are lifesaving especially around back-to-school time."
Despite controversy over the potential side effects of vaccinations, Behn says research has disproven any links between certain vaccines and autism.
For a list of vaccine requirements for students by age, visit the Wisconsin Health Department website or talk to your physician.