By Donna Butts and Sister Edna Lonergan | Photos by St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care
Countries around the world are grappling with the coronavirus. While a vaccine has yet to be developed to prevent its spread, this new outbreak is a good reminder that there are vaccines available to combat other illnesses and protect people of all ages.
There are 2.5 million grandparents and other relatives who are full-time caregivers for children. Beyond family ties, older adults also interact with children in community settings such as schools, parks, places of worship, and through coordinated intergenerational programs like those at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, an intergenerational shared site in Milwaukee, WI.
With younger and older people frequently connecting across ages, vaccines across the lifespan are necessary to help stop the spread of the flu, pneumonia, and whooping cough — vaccine-preventable diseases more likely to spread between what we call “bookend generations.”
At St. Ann Center, intergenerational bonds between children and older adults form when they play games, make crafts, sing songs, read stories and do other activities together every day. The children give the adults a renewed sense of purpose and the children learn so much from there adult friends.
Any parent knows how fast illness can spread through a classroom; childhood vaccinations help protect not only the immunized child and children, but also their grandparents and other older relatives, especially those with weakened immune systems.
Similarly, vaccinations keep older people healthy so that they’re able to provide care and less likely to pass on sickness to children and others.
Caring for the most vulnerable populations at all stages of life, we see daily how important it is to protect both young and old. While a healthy 35-year-old may be able to shake off a “bug” with no lasting effects, the effects on the very young, or our elders can be devastating.
When it comes to good health, we need an all generations approach.
That’s why Generations United recently created a new infographic that illustrates the important role vaccinations play in enabling older adults to be healthy providers of care for babies and children.
An additional resource is the intergenerational discussion guide from our Valuing Vaccinations Across Generations campaign that we launched in 2016 with The Gerontological Society of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Here are some ways to help older caregivers and children stay healthy in your family and community:
· Set an example. Influence your peers and others who regularly spend time with children by staying up to date on your vaccines.
· Speak up. Talk with your family about the importance of staying up to date on vaccines at all ages. Visit www.BandageOfHonor.org for tips and conversation-starters
· Take action. Check with your local health department or volunteer center about opportunities in your community to encourage vaccines for all ages.
So, as you work towards your resolutions to be healthier and to strengthen ties young people in your life this year, remember that vaccines are a part of the commitment of caring across generations. Why? Because we are healthier together.