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As parents, we do everything in our power to protect our children. When we consider all the ways we keep our children safe, immunization may not always be top of mind. In reality, it’s one of the most important things you can do to protect your child, from the moment they are born through their teens and into adulthood. In fact, for kids born between 1994 and 2016, vaccines will prevent an estimated 855,000 deaths in their lifetimes.

Measles, mumps, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases are not a thing of the past. They remain a threat today and are especially dangerous for infants who are too young to be fully immunized.

My family was forever changed by a vaccine-preventable disease. My daughter Francesca was only 3 months old when she developed a cough. Days later she died of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that women receive the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy to protect their newborn child. I don’t ever remember being offered the vaccine or being told the importance of receiving it. By the time Francesca was eligible for her first dose of the DTaP vaccine, she had already been exposed to pertussis.

Vaccination is an emotionally charged topic. Since Francesca’s passing I have shared her story with thousands of parents across Michigan and have been able to find common ground with each and every one. The common denominator, regardless of a person’s stance on vaccination, is the overwhelming desire to keep our children safe.

This week is National Infant Immunization Week, which highlights the importance of protecting babies from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrates the positive impact vaccination has on children — both as infants and throughout their entire lives.

Through immunization, we can now protect infants and young children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before age 2. In order for your children to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, they should be vaccinated according to the CDC’s recommended schedule. To offer them the best umbrella of protection possible, the people around them need to be vaccinated, too.

Research tells us that parents have questions about immunization but finding reliable sources with information based on real medical science can be difficult. The amount of confusing or downright false information about vaccines available on the internet is nothing short of alarming. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to discern what’s true and what isn’t.

My husband and I have made it our life’s work to educate parents about the dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases in hopes that no family will have to experience the heartbreak we have.

Last March, our foundation — the Franny Strong Foundation — in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched the I Vaccinate campaign to provide information and resources based on medical science and research to help Michigan parents protect their families. Our website — IVaccinate.org — answers common questions I hear from parents, such as “Why do vaccines start so early?” and “Can vaccines overload my child’s immune system?” It’s a good place to start to understand the facts, in addition to talking to your child’s doctor.

The truth is that medical consensus exists: Vaccines are safe, effective and help protect everyone in your community — even those who are too young to be vaccinated.

I dreamed of having a daughter, but I never dreamed I would lose her to a vaccine-preventable disease. I hope our campaign will spark conversations between families and their doctors, between new parents and people around their newborn baby, and even between friends.

We all want to make the right choices for our kids. While it’s not always an easy topic to broach, your decision to vaccinate affects the protection of all children in your community, including your own.

Veronica McNally and her husband are founders of the Franny Strong Foundation.

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