Assemblywoman’s Op-Ed: To Protect Our Children, Let’s Maintain Current Vaccination Schedules

May 16, 2024

By: The Honorable New York State Assemblywoman Inez E. Dickens

Since the inception of my political career 34 years ago, advocating for public health has been at the forefront of my agenda – just like it was for my late father, Harlem businessman and New York State Assemblyman Lloyd E. Dickens.

During my time on the New York City Council and in the New York State Assembly, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of effective vaccination programs on our community’s health and safety.

The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated the vital role of immunization and vaccination in safeguarding public health. The development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines showcased the power of scientific innovation. Immunization campaigns became critical in curbing transmission, protecting vulnerable populations, and ultimately, saving lives.

We are fortunate enough to have the resources, science and technology to continue to protect our communities from preventable diseases through immunization; however, despite significant evidence that immunizations have been protecting us for years, vaccination schedules are still threatened by unnecessary changes.

That is currently the case for the meningococcal vaccination schedule for children. The current vaccination schedule, which begins with an initial dose at ages 11-12 followed by a booster dose at age 16, has been highly effective in reducing the incidence of meningococcal disease among this age group. Since the recommendation was issued in the mid-2000s, almost 90% of 11-12-year-olds have been protected against the common strains of meningitis.

Despite the success of this immunization, members of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are considering a drastic change to the meningococcal vaccination schedule.

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Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection that can lead to meningitis and sepsis, both of which can be fatal. The current vaccination schedule, including the initial dose at ages 11-12, has been instrumental in reducing the incidence of this devastating illness. However, the proposed change to remove this crucial dose raises significant concerns.

First and foremost, the adolescent years represent a critical period for immunization. By administering the meningococcal vaccine at ages 11-12, we provide timely protection to children as they enter adolescence, a time when they may be more susceptible to certain infections due to changes in behavior and social interactions.

Furthermore, removing the initial dose at ages 11-12 could lead to gaps in protection, leaving our children vulnerable to meningococcal disease during a period of increased risk. Delaying vaccination until later in adolescence not only increases the likelihood of missed opportunities for immunization but also prolongs the period of susceptibility to this potentially life-threatening infection.

Additionally, we must consider the potential impact on public health disparities. Communities of color, including those in Central Harlem and Manhattanville, are often disproportionately affected by preventable diseases like meningitis. By maintaining the current vaccination schedule, we ensure equitable access to lifesaving preventive care for all children, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location.

As a member of the New York State Assembly, I am committed to advocating for evidence-based policies that prioritize the health and safety of our community. Therefore, I urge the ACIP to reconsider any changes to the meningococcal vaccination schedule that may compromise the well-being of our children.

Maintaining the initial dose of the meningococcal vaccine at ages 11-12 is essential for safeguarding the health of our youth and preventing the spread of this deadly disease. Let us not falter in our commitment to protecting our children and ensuring a healthier future for all.

Inez E. Dickens

As a lifelong resident of the 70th Assembly District, Inez E. Dickens is a tireless fighter for basic civil and human rights, social justice, wage equity, inclusion and diversity.

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