Rx for Child Survival

Ask the Experts

Dr. Katrina Hedberg

Dr. Katrina Hedberg

Manager of Communicable Disease Preparedness, Oregon Department of Human Services

Along with the advent of pasteurization and discovery of antibiotics, routine immunizations are one of the greatest public health successes of the 20th century. In the early 1900's, leading causes of death around the world were from infectious diseases; today most doctors in the US have never seen a child with measles or polio. So why should parents in the US continue to routinely vaccinate their children? And why should vaccination of children around the world concern Americans?

There are two compelling reasons for parents in the US to continue to immunize their children. First, vaccine-preventable diseases are still major health problems for children in other parts of the world. Nowadays, these diseases are merely a plane flight away. Americans travel to countries where there are still outbreaks of measles, polio, diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases. In addition, people from these countries travel to the US to do business, study and take vacations. So these diseases are regularly being reintroduced into the US. If children in the US aren't immunized, we may again suffer from epidemics of these diseases. Vaccinating children in countries where these diseases are common will not only help to decrease the burden on those children, but will decrease the likelihood that US children are exposed.

Another reason for routinely vaccinating US children is that new vaccines are still being developed. Vaccine against H. influenzae type B meningitis was introduced a decade ago, and this disease has plummeted. Hepatitis A, which is transmitted much like polio, has been hitting us in epidemic waves until a few years ago when a vaccine against it became available. A new vaccine targeting meningococcal disease has recently been recommended for adolescents, which will hopefully have a great impact on this deadly disease.

The success of immunizations should not make us complacent. We need to continue to vaccinate children in the US as well as the rest of the world so that our successes in fighting infectious diseases can continue.

Dr. Katrina Hedberg is currently the manager of Communicable Disease Preparedness for the Oregon Department of Human Services, and a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University. Dr. Hedberg received her undergraduate degree from Yale University, her medical degree from Oregon Health Sciences University, and her Master's of Public Health Degree from the University of Washington. Dr. Hedberg has been with the Oregon Department of Human Services for the past 15 years, during which she has worked in a variety of programs, including HIV/AIDS, Communicable Disease Prevention, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Tuberculosis Control and most recently, Communicable Disease Preparedness.