The Transylvania Times -

Why Immunize? Because What We Do Matters

 


Most young parents in the U.S. have never seen the devastating effects that diseases like polio, measles or whooping cough can have on a family. But talk to anyone who grew up prior to the mid-20th century and they will be able to tell you of those they knew who suffered and died as a result of these illnesses.

It’s easy to think of these diseases as things of the past, but they are making a comeback in communities with low immunization rates. In 2014, there were 60 cases of whooping cough reported in Buncombe County. There were 668 cases of measles in the U.S. in 2014, the greatest number of cases since 1994. And earlier this year, 117 people became ill during a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland. These diseases had practically disappeared from the U.S. over the past several decades – thanks to immunizations.

We know that most people choose to immunize, building a shield of protection around themselves and the community. Unfortunately, it only takes a few people who are not immunized to create cracks in the shield and outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases result in illness, disability and death, missed school and work, loss of income, and increased health care costs. The health of our community depends on very high numbers of immunized people. Keeping our community shield strong is especially important for those who cannot be immunized or are most vulnerable to illness, including infants, the elderly and those with weak immune systems or other medical conditions.

During the 2014-15 school year, over 5 percent of Buncombe County kindergartners did not have all their required immunizations. This percentage was the highest in North Carolina – almost six times higher than the North Carolina average – and the highest ever seen in Buncombe County, where immunization exemption rates have been increasing over the last decade. Some schools in Buncombe County have opt-out rates of 20 percent or higher, leaving a gaping hole in our shield of protection. Most of these children’s parents claimed a non-medical reason for not vaccinating their children.

This isn’t just a Buncombe County problem. Of the 20 counties in North Carolina with an exemption rate of 1 percent or higher during last school year, half were in Western North Carolina.

As a family doctor, a public health official and a new mom, I urge parents to get their children immunized and to follow the doctor-recommended immunization schedule. Consider what it would be like if your child was exposed to a disease like pertussis or measles, both of which can be deadly. Visit http://www.buncombecoun ty.org/vaccine for more information.

It’s important to remember that immunizations don’t end in childhood. There are immunizations for all stages of life, including pregnancy, young adulthood, and older age. This August, as students head off to school, make sure you and your family are up-to-date on immunizations.

What we do matters. Shield our community from vaccine-preventable diseases. Get immunized. Protect yourself, those you love, those who cannot be vaccinated, and our entire community by getting recommended immunizations.

(Dr. Jennifer Mullendore received her medical degree from the Georgetown University School of Medicine and graduated from the Moses Cone Family Medicine Residency Program in Greensboro, N.C. After receiving her Master of Science in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, she began working at the Buncombe County Health Center. She is currently the Medical Director for Buncombe County Health and Human Services, a member of the Western Carolina Medical Society, and a new mom who is immunizing her baby boy on schedule.)

 
 

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