As part of National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), the Louisiana Department of Health is encouraging parents to make sure their children's immunizations are up to date. National Infant Immunization Week, which is April 20-27, 2013, is an annual nationwide observance to highlight the importance of protecting infants, birth to 24 months of age, from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases and to celebrate the achievements of immunization programs in promoting healthy communities throughout the United States.

The Louisiana Shots for Tots Coalition is a statewide public and private partnership working to increase vaccination rates through public education and outreach, and is helping to promote NIIW 2013 by sending out reminder cards to pediatricians and day care providers.

"A substantial number of infants in the United States still aren't adequately protected from vaccine-preventable diseases," said Interim LDH Secretary Kathy Kliebert. "The suffering or death of even one child from a disease that could be prevented from a vaccine is an unnecessary human tragedy. Let us renew our efforts to ensure that no child, adolescent, or adult will have to needlessly suffer from a disease that a vaccine could prevent."

"Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease and death," said J.T. Lane, Assistant Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health Office of Public Health. "They help protect not only vaccinated individuals, but entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Immunization Survey, in 2011, Louisiana ranked 17th nationally for vaccination of young children. By two years of age, 74.6 percent of Louisiana's children were up-to-date on immunizations, beating the national average of 73.3 percent. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 immunization goal is to have 90 percent of children up to date with all recommended vaccines. Louisiana is dedicated to obtaining that goal.

Each year, thousands of children become ill from diseases that could have been prevented by childhood immunizations. Countless more miss time from daycare and school because they are not immunized as recommended.  Children in the United States can - and do - still get some of these diseases.

For example, in 2012, more than 50 people were reported to have measles across the country.  In addition, in 2012, preliminary data from CDC reports more than 41,000 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in the United States, including 18 deaths. Most of these deaths were in children younger than 1 year of age.  This was the highest number of pertussis cases in any one year in the country since 1955.

Vaccines have drastically reduced infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases in the United States. Giving babies the recommended immunizations by age two is the best way to protect them from 14 serious childhood diseases, including whooping cough and measles.

In the 1950s, nearly every child developed measles and some even died from this serious disease. Today, few physicians just out of medical school will ever see a case of measles during their careers. Parents are encouraged to talk to their child's doctor to ensure that their infant is up-to-date on immunizations.