The annual migration of our young ones to school and college is nigh. In addition to outfitting your students for the coming year, I would like you to consider perhaps one of the most important aspects of getting your son or daughter through another year – by updating their immunizations.

You may have heard about the recent measles outbreak in our area. It continues to grow and is now the third largest in the United States this year. In the past two weeks, officials of the Missouri Department of Health confirmed 21 cases of measles. The Kansas Department of Health, reports nine cases in their state, all linked to the same outbreak.

After hitting a record low number of cases in 2004 measles cases have been on the rise. This vaccine-preventable disease, had been fairly low since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in 2000.Not so long ago, there used to be around 500,000 cases of measles and 500 measles deaths each year in the United States. The vast majority of those stricken in the latest outbreak were not vaccinated, or under-vaccinated.

Ever since the introduction in the U.S. of the polio vaccine in 1955 and the measles vaccine in 1963, immunizations have allowed us to nearly eliminate many diseases that once killed people by the tens of thousands

Vaccines are our best defense against many of these diseases, which often result in serious complications such as pneumonia, meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain), liver cancer, bloodstream infections, and even death. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends vaccinations to protect children against 16 infectious diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella (MMR/German measles), varicella (chickenpox), hepatitis B, Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis/ whooping cough). Whooping cough has also been a local issue in recent years and beginning in 2015, Missouri college students living in on-campus housing will be required to get vaccinated against meningitis.

With measles, up to 5 percent of people do not respond to their first dose of measles vaccine, which is why a booster dose is recommended. And, after that second dose of a measles vaccine, more than 99 percent of people develop immunity to measles.

At age 11 and 12, kids are looking not only at boosters for Tdap and Varicella, but are recommended to take advantage of Menactra, combating meningococcal disease (including meningitis) and especially for girls, Gardasil, which protects against human papillomavirus (HPV).

Currently scientific data proves vaccination with multiple vaccines has no adverse effect on the normal childhood immune system. Both the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend simultaneous childhood vaccines be given when appropriate. The trend is now to find methods to combine even more antigens into single injections, in an effort to keep the lid on outbreaks.

Despite studies that prove vaccines are saving countless lives and days of productivity and that vaccines aren't causing autism, Missouri has been sliding in recent years in the percentage of those children getting immunized. As recently as 2006, 80.6 percent of young children in Missouri had received all their shots. Since then, vaccination coverage has plummeted to 56.2 percent for Missouri children from 19 to 35 months according to survey data from the CDC.

The more people who get immunized, the more people like infants and elderly folks who aren't eligible for the vaccine are protected by what's referred to as the "herd immunity." Check the schedule for the age range of each vaccine recommended for your child. If they have missed any shots, there is a catch-up scheduler tool on the CDC web site with recommended visits. Have a successful and healthy semester.

Linda McCormick, DO, practices at St. Mary's Medical Center in Blue Springs.