Kayla Pagel: Childhood vaccinations — not just a personal choice, a community responsibility

In an era where misinformation can spread as rapidly as disease, it’s imperative that we, as a community, reaffirm our commitment to vaccines—one of the most effective preventive public health tools available. As president of the Louisiana Parent Teacher Association (PTA), I feel compelled to address the health and safety of our children through vaccination as a matter of utmost urgency.

Our children’s well-being, the continuity of their education, and the strength of our community depend on it.

The PTA serves as a bridge between parents, teachers, and the community with a long and storied history of advocating for the wellness of children. Our mission is to provide parents and educators with the resources and support they need to foster an environment in which every child can thrive and realize their full potential, and vaccination remains one of the critical tools to ensure their health and safety.

Vaccines, which have long been a cornerstone of public health, are an integral part of wellness education. Over the decades, we’ve seen how vaccines have effectively eradicated deadly diseases such as smallpox and significantly reduced the prevalence of others, including polio and measles. As such, our children and families no longer see the devastating diseases of generations past. Vaccines are essential to keeping our school doors open and our children safe.

The math is simple. Unfortunately, when vaccination rates drop, the threat of outbreaks increases. Children are left vulnerable to preventable diseases for various reasons, including when parents refuse to vaccinate their children or access to vaccines is not readily available in a community. Furthermore, children are at risk when their immune system cannot build adequate protection against disease due to being immunocompromised, or they cannot receive vaccines due to medical conditions.

While vaccines are available to most students and other Louisianans, not everyone has the privilege of easy access to receive them. There is a stark difference in communities that have school health offerings, and those that don’t. This disparity underscores the importance of community health initiatives, removing barriers to care, and improving public trust in our providers and public health officials.

Before becoming involved in PTA, I served 22 years in the U.S. Army and proudly retired as a lieutenant colonel. With Memorial Day upon us, I would be remiss to deny the vital role public health advancements play in maintaining our freedoms, even since the foundation of our nation with George Washington’s compulsory inoculation of his troops against smallpox. This strategy ultimately helped him defeat the British and win the Revolutionary War.

During my military career, ensuring the health and safety of the people in my unit was paramount — and that same priority extends to our civilian communities, especially our children.

Vaccination is not just a personal choice; it is a community responsibility. By vaccinating our children, we protect those who cannot themselves be vaccinated, contributing to the overall health of our society. The concept of “it takes a village” is particularly relevant here. Our collective efforts can ensure that our schools remain safe and open and that our children remain healthy and free.

The Louisiana PTA is proud to play a critical role in promoting vaccination and other health initiatives. With 60 local units, we have the reach and influence to make a significant impact. Our wellness fairs, coordinated with the National PTA Wellness Fair program and supported by Walmart, are designed to inform and empower parents with the knowledge needed to make the best health decisions for their families. However, we cannot do it alone.

We urge all parents to prioritize vaccinations for their children. Vaccines are safe, effective, and essential in preventing the spread of contagious diseases. Together, we can create a healthier future for our children, ensuring every child the opportunity to grow up healthy, strong, and free.

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Kayla Pagel is the current president of the Louisiana Parent Teacher Association. The National Parent and Teacher Association is the oldest and largest child advocacy organization in America. Comprising over 2.5 million parents, teachers, grandparents, caregivers, foster parents, and other concerned adults, today’s PTA is dedicated to enhancing the education, health, and safety of all children.




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