National Immunization Awareness Month

Each year, August is dedicated to bringing awareness of the everchanging advancements and life-saving measures involved with vaccination through the annual recognition of National Immunization Month. Since 2020, an even larger emphasis has been placed on getting immunized as COVID-19 vaccines first became available and began making headlines worldwide. Now more than ever, it is important to understand how vaccinations work to protect your health and wellbeing. With 71.8% of Virginians fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, there’s no better time to dive deeper into the ins and outs of immunizations. 

What are vaccines and how do they work?

Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases and are usually administered through needle injections in the U.S., but some can be given by mouth or sprayed into the nose in other parts of the world.

Specialized immune cells in the body recognize and attack infectious invaders in different ways, as described by the CDC here

  • Macrophages are white blood cells that swallow up and digest germs, plus dead or dying cells. The macrophages leave behind parts of the invading germs called antigens. The body identifies antigens as dangerous and stimulates antibodies to attack them.
  • B-lymphocytes are defensive white blood cells; they can produce antibodies to fight off infection.
  • T-lymphocytes are another type of defensive white blood cell that recognizes a familiar germ if the body is exposed again to the same disease.

A vaccine introduces a small amount of a specific antigen into the body, allowing the immune system to recognize the antigen and create a set of antibodies to be “deployed” if that antigen ever becomes active again. Antibodies are selective for specific antigens, so vaccines spur development of these specialized immune cells for a specific virus or bacteria. Creating this team of specially trained immune cells takes time and can require retraining – which is why some vaccines require boosters. 

What immunizations are necessary? 

Currently, approximately 10 vaccines are recommended for children at specific ages beginning at birth through adolescence. You can see the full schedule of recommended vaccines in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here. The number of vaccines suggested for adults varies by specific age groups, in addition to recommended prevention based on certain jobs, international travel, or health conditions. The Virginia Department of Health recommends talking with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about getting vaccinated.

Vaccine Goals

The vaccine schedule for individuals living in the United States is designed to create herd immunity. This population-level immunity occurs when a large enough percentage of the population has developed antibodies to fight a certain virus that its spread from person to person becomes unlikely. Herd immunity can be achieved through vaccination or prior infection, though the World Health Organization strongly recommends using vaccination to reach herd immunity as the severity of infection varies significantly and can result in unnecessary illness and death. 

Resources

References

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-indications.html#table-indications

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam/index.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/herd-immunity-and-coronavirus/art-20486808 

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pregnancy/index.html

Maternal Health Awareness Month

What is Maternal Health Awareness Month?

Maternal and infant health and mortality are impacted by poverty, gender inequality, age, multiple forms of discrimination, lack of access to adequate health facilities, inadequate technology, and lack of infrastructure. The death per live birth for black women is three times higher than that of white women. Between 2007 and 2016, the national maternal mortality rate for black women with at least a college degree was five times higher than white women with a similar education, illustrating the direct connection between race and maternal mortality, beyond race-associated socioeconomic factors. The Virginia General Assembly notes that the root cause of these disparities is longstanding structural racism which results in poor health indicators and outcomes for individuals and communities of color.  

Illustration of fetus in utero by Chidiebere Sunday Ibe.

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly designated July as Maternal Health Awareness Month through House Joint Resolution No. 111. During this month, we recognize the current state of maternal health in the Commonwealth and promote awareness of the many ways to improve it. 

The overall health of the mother as well as the child is critical throughout the pregnancy. As many changes take place during pregnancy, it is especially important to pay attention to emotional as well as physical health. There are several steps that can be taken to assist in maintaining optimal mental and physical wellness.

  1. Create a plan – Review your existing health insurance policy to understand what is covered from prenatal needs to newborn care. Learn more about insurance coverage during pregnancy here. Consult with a health care provider to discuss any existing health conditions, prescribed medication and/or lifestyle changes (drug and/or alcohol use) that may need to be modified prior to conception. 
  2. Prenatal care – Regular check-ups and daily choices (including taking a daily multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid) throughout the duration of pregnancy can contribute to a safe and healthy delivery. The following represents a complete schedule for prenatal medical visits:
    • Weeks 4 – 28 of pregnancy – checkup every 4 weeks (1x per month)
    • Weeks 28 – 36 of pregnancy – checkup every 2 weeks (2x per month)
    • Weeks 36 – 41 of pregnancy – checkup every week (4x per month)
  3. Postnatal care – It is equally important to continue care post-delivery, particularly during the 12 weeks following birth, sometimes called the “4th trimester.” The first postpartum checkup should occur within 6 weeks of delivery to evaluate recovery from labor and birth. As of 7/1/2022, Medicaid and FAMIS MOMS members in Virginia now have full coverage through 12 months postpartum. In addition to physical postpartum healing, mental health can be especially challenged during this period. Postpartum depression can develop in anyone following delivery, so it is important to communicate your mental health symptoms with your healthcare provider, lean on your support system (family, friends, childcare, community organizations), and utilize mental health resources, including the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS. 

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and other health organizations offer a wealth of information and resources regarding pregnancy, family planning, WIC Benefits (Women, Infants, and Children), breastfeeding, and more.  

References:

It’s Tick Season! Tips on Preventing Tick Bites

tick warning signTicks & Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is the most common disease caused by ticks in Virginia and the United States. For the last 10 years, Virginia has reported over 1,000 cases each year. The CDC estimated that the actual number may be 10 times greater. The number of cases has risen recently, with 2017 being the highest year on record, with 1,652 cases reported. 

Lyme disease is usually transmitted by the tiny, black-colored nymph stage Blacklegged Ticks. They measure less than 1/16 of an inch in length. Ticks are mostly found on the ground in wooded areas that have dense leaf litter. Pets may also bring ticks into the home.

Symptoms

Due to this tick’s small size and painless bite, people are often unaware they were bitten unless they see the tick attached to their skin. The first symptom of Lyme disease includes a rash that may appear as a bullseye. Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Prevention

To prevent ticks, use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents on your shoes, socks, and lower legs containing:

  • DEET (20%-50% concentration),
  • Picaridin,
  • IR3535,
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE),
  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD), or
  • 2-undecanone

Please follow the label when using any repellent. These repellents are also useful against other ticks and mosquitoes.  

Pants, shoes, and socks can also be treated with Permethrin (an insecticide safe for use on clothing worn by people). Carefully follow label instructions on Permethrin when treating clothing. Permethrin should not be directly applied to the skin. Anything treated with it should be completely dry before use. It is advised to tuck your treated pants into your treated socks.

After you return indoors, check your clothing and do a full body check for ticks. Examine gear and pets for ticks and shower within 2 hours of being outdoors. This helps wash off unattached ticks and will help you do a full body check.

https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/12/2019/08/Tick-borne-Disease-in-Virginia-Flyer-8.5-x-11-format-for-website-.pdf