"It's never been safer to be an infant than it is now," according to Dr. Philip Dech.

Illnesses that can be prevented by vaccines are at a 100-year low, the Fairview Red Wing Medical Center pediatrician said.

However, he stressed, it all depends on a high percent of children receiving vaccinations.

The medical community and a lot of parents are particularly interested right now in one of those vaccines: Hib, which is short for Haemophilus influenza Type B. A serious disease caused by bacteria, it usually strikes children under age 5.

Minnesotans became concerned when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that five children in this state were infected with Hib last year.

"Five seems like a relatively low number, but it was actually a huge increase," said Tammy Kennedy, nursing supervisor for pediatrics at Fairview Red Wing.

Most states report no more than one case, she said.

In Minnesota, Hib had been "almost non-existent."

Three of the five children had not received any vaccinations, including a 7-month-old child who died, Kennedy said.

One child had been partially vaccinated, and the fifth child received all of the vaccination doses but was affected due to immunodeficiency, the CDC reported.

The pediatrics department offered two assurances to local parents:

  • If a child has received the full series of Hib vaccine doses, he or she should have immunity against Hib.

Booster shots, which are listed on the immunization schedule for 12 to 15 months, are not available at this time due to a national shortage, but a child who has received the full series is protected, Kennedy said.

The department has received numerous phone calls from parents who are concerned because their children received only two doses, instead of the three doses listed on the standard immunization schedule.

That's not a problem if the child received the Hib series from the manufacturer Merck, Kennedy said. A complete series of the Merck is two doses. A complete series of some other types of vaccine is three, administered at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age.

"We have enough Hib vaccine available in stock to complete the initial series," she stressed. Currently the hospital is using the Sanofi Pasteur, which is a three-dose series. The Merck was extremely popular and is not currently available.

Parents with questions about the vaccine series their children received are encouraged to call (651) 267-5500 and follow the prompt to the Pediatric Department line. Leave a message with your question, Kennedy said, and a nurse will look up the information and respond.

  • If children have not started the vaccination schedule, now is a good time to do so.

Some parents may decide to delay vaccines until their child is 2 years old, Kennedy said, while others may decide to hold vaccinations altogether.

Doctors advise them at least to get vaccines against diseases that can be fatal.

Hib disease is one. Before the vaccine, some 20,000 children in the United States got serious and sometimes fatal infections every year. Vaccination has cut that by 99 percent.

A child can get the infection by being around other children or adults who may have the bacteria and not know it. The germs spread from person to person. If the germs stay in the child's nose and throat, the child probably will not get sick. But sometimes the germs spread.

When that happens, Hib disease invades the lining of the brain, bloodstream or lungs. Infection can cause meningitis, sepsis or pneumonia, leading to brain damage or death.

One in 20 dies; survivors can become deaf, and 10 to 30 percent have permanent brain damage, the CDC said.

The hospital has a "catchup" schedule for children who did not receive the series starting at age 2 months, Kennedy said. Pediatrics staff can get all that information for parents.

The CDC urges all parents to make sure children under 5 have had the basic vaccinations.

The report of five cases in Minnesota "is a terrible reminder to us that we can't let our guard down," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

"Bacteria and viruses are still out there, and if there is an opportunity, serious disease can come back; parents who wondered whether Hib vaccination is really necessary need to know the disease is still around. It is a very dangerous disease, and we have a vaccine that can protect children."

Dr. Dech is in complete agreement.

The argument for vaccination gets a bit abstract if you've never seen what the illnesses can do, he acknowledged. Parents see discomfort when their children are vaccinated, but they don't see the illnesses any more.

"I'm old enough that my first job was in an emergency room before Hib vaccine was available," he said. "I've seen how sick children can get from Hib, but a lot of people haven't.

"I'm a big fan of vaccines," Dech said - and he'd be happy to explain to parents why he feels that way.