During the first years of a child’s life, cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development are inextricably linked. Poor health in a very young child can have negative impacts on other areas of development. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) considers health and safety practices as the foundation of quality early care and education settings, and includes immunization as a key component of its Caring for Our Children Basics guidelines .
Immunizations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) help protect infants and young children from 14 diseases, such as whooping cough, that can be very serious or even deadly. Institutional outbreaks of whooping cough, such as those in a daycare center or school, are common, taking place each year in many states. Measles outbreaks in childcare settings have also been documented.
“By keeping children healthy and decreasing the chances of outbreaks, immunizations can help early childhood programs create a safe environment for children,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “This not only applies to child care settings, but also to programs in home settings, where infants and young children be can be exposed to diseases through family and friends.”
Here are five ways that you can support on-time immunization of infants and young children in your early childhood program:
1. Ensure that families in your program are vaccinated according to CDC’s recommended schedule and meet your state’s child care vaccination requirements. Consult your state health department’s website to find a list of required vaccines. Find out if your state has an immunization registry. If it does, ask your state immunization program if early childhood administrators can use it to verify children’s vaccination status.
2. Ensure that your staff are vaccinated as well, so that they don’t pass along a disease to the children in your program. It’s especially important for them to be up to date on their pertussis, measles, and flu shots.
3. Promptly notify your state or local health department if any children in your program come down with a notifiable vaccine-preventable disease. Visit your health department’s website for a list of notifiable diseases in your state.
4. Parents may seek the advice of early childhood program staff when it comes to health and safety issues, especially if their child does not have a regular primary care provider. Provide your program staff with basic information about the childhood immunization schedule and the benefits and risks of vaccination. Incorporate this information into your training for new hires and organize special professional development sessions for existing staff. CDC’s vaccine website for parents (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents) contains useful information for staff without medical training. (See the Resources section.) CDC also has a suite of materials for health care professionals, which can be accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/conversations.
5. Educate families in your program about vaccine-preventable diseases and the importance of on-time immunization. There are many ways to do this. For example:
a. Post a link to CDC’s vaccine website for parents (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents) on your program website.
c. Order free copies of CDC’s Parents Guide to Immunizations and distribute them to parents in your program: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/tools/parents-guide.
d. Print, and distribute copies of CDC’s Immunizations and Developmental Milestones Tracker: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/downloads/milestones-tracker.pdf.
e. Print and distribute copies of CDC’s fact sheet “Infant Immunization FAQs”, which is available in English and Spanish: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/parent-questions.html
f. If there is a disease that is of particular concern in your community, print and distribute CDC’s disease fact sheets (available in English and Spanish): https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/diseases
g. Print CDC immunization posters and display them in your facilities: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niiw/promotional/print-materials/ads-posters.html#print-ads
h. Publish CDC’s drop-in articles for parents through in your newsletter or blog: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niiw/media-tools.
Immunizations keep children healthy so that they can spend more time learning, growing, and socializing with peers. Early childhood programs have an important role to play in educating the parents of young children about the benefits of immunization and ensuring that children in their programs stay on schedule with their vaccines.
Ensuring Adequate Health Coverage for Infants and Toddlers. Zero to Three. Policy Resource. March 9, 2008. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/442-ensuring-adequate-health-coverage-for-infants-and-toddlers
 Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2015. Caring for Our Children Basics. Health and Safety Foundations for Early Care and Education.