Q&A: The word on vaccines and immunization from Chatham’s Health Department

Posted 8/21/20

August marks National Immunization Awareness Month The Chatham County Public Health Department is marking the month by celebrating “Vaccine Appreciation Week” on its Facebook page, …

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Q&A: The word on vaccines and immunization from Chatham’s Health Department

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August marks National Immunization Awareness Month The Chatham County Public Health Department is marking the month by celebrating “Vaccine Appreciation Week” on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/chathamhealth, from August 17-23. A team that included Public Health Nurse Laura Parks, Childcare Health Consultant Dorothy Rawleigh, Communications Specialist Zachary Horner and Interim Public Health Director Michael Zelek from the CCPHD answered some questions about immunizations, including what is offered at the department’s Siler City clinic, potential COVID-19 vaccines and the upcoming flu season.

What vaccines does the Health Department offer? And why those vaccines?

The Chatham County Public Health Department currently offers vaccines for children to cover state requirements for entering school. Those vaccines include Tdap, Td, Hepatitis A and B, HPV, Polio, DTaP, MMR, Menactra (Meningococcal), Hib, Prevnar (Pneumococcal), Rotateq, and Varicella. CCPHD recommends children receive all of these vaccines and follow the vaccine schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The clinic also offers adult immunizations for the seasonal flu, Hepatitis A and B, HPV, MMR, Prevnar and pneumovax 23 (Pneumococcal), Rabies, Shingrix (Shingles), Td and Vaicella. Coverage for adults is dependent on insurance. Some adults may meet coverage criteria for state supplied vaccine, which means no out of pocket cost to client.

Beyond us, there are many options in the Chatham community to get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor or medical provider to ensure you and your family are up-to-date on vaccines and protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The World Health Organization called “vaccine hesitancy” — “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines” — one of the top 10 threats to global health last year. Is that a concern in Chatham County?

Vaccines are among the most important public health interventions that exist, and we always encourage Chatham residents to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated. Here in Chatham, our community has responded. Vaccination rates among young children in the county consistently rank among the highest in the state. In 2019, 99 percent of children in licensed child care in Chatham were up-to-date on age-based vaccine requirements. Additionally, all 43 of Chatham’s child care facilities are fully in compliance with immunization laws. Only around 4% of parents of children under two years old have refused to get their children vaccinated. The Chatham County Public Health Department and residents have worked together to make this happen.

The CDC published a report in May saying that immunizations in Michigan declined by around 50 percent among children two years and younger during the COVID-19 pandemic. Should parents be bringing in their children for immunizations right now?

Yes. Vaccines are as important now as ever. For example, getting COVID-19 and the flu at the same time could make you very ill, and vaccines are as good of a tool as we have to protect ourselves. Medical providers across Chatham County and the country have implemented measures focusing on patient safety during the pandemic. If you have questions about these measures, give your doctor a call.

If more people do not vaccinate their children on time, the likelihood of a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak increases. No one wants to deal with an outbreak on top of a pandemic. A person who has influenza, measles or pertussis, for example, is going to be at a greater risk for a severe COVID-19 infection because their immune system will already be compromised. The situation we’re in really highlights the critical importance of vaccinating children on time for every childhood immunization.

With flu season coming up, what is the status of the flu vaccine in Chatham County? What should people know about the flu vaccine this year as compared to previous years?

This flu season, it is more critical than ever that Chatham residents get the flu vaccine. With one virus being rapidly transmitted around the county, it’s important that Chatham respond and get vaccinated.

The flu vaccine will soon become widely available, and we will be updating the Chatham community through our website, chathamnc.org/publichealth, and our Facebook page, facebook.com/chathamhealth. Your doctor and pharmacy are beginning to get the flu vaccine. Given them a call to schedule your visit.

Another interesting fact is that social distancing was not created specifically for the coronavirus — it has been practiced for many years. During the 1918 flu pandemic, cities across America closed movie theaters and schools and prohibited public gatherings to help curb the spread of the virus. To help prevent the flu from infecting people, we need to be conscious of how we interact with others in public. And while the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, it’s vital that we continue to follow the 3 Ws — wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, wear a face covering when in public and wait six feet apart from others.

What is the most common misconception you’ve heard about vaccines, and why is it a misconception?

We hear many people express concern about children receiving “too many” vaccines and that these vaccines will overwhelm an infant’s immune system. It’s understandable for parents to question the number of shots and the components in them, but it is important to know that the benefits of being up-to-date on vaccines are clear.

We encourage parents to learn more about how the different kinds of vaccines are made and how our immune systems work. It’s really quite fascinating. Vaccines contain parts of viruses or bacteria that induce protective immune responses. These active ingredients are called immunological components. The challenges from the immunological components in vaccines is minuscule compared to the immune system challenges that infants experience every day from viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi in our environment, on our skins, in our food, in the water we drink and the air we breathe. Babies are constantly making antibodies to respond to the trillions of bacteria they are colonized with. Each bacterium contains 2,000 and 6,000 immunological components. The challenge from the 150 immunological components in vaccines is dwarfed when compared to what their immune systems manage every day.

While we don’t know what the COVID-19 vaccine will look like, what role do immunizations play in viruses that spread like the strand of the coronavirus does?

The history of vaccines tells us a lot about how effective they have been in the past, and we hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will do something similar. Like COVID-19, measles is a disease caused by a virus that is spread by respiratory droplets from person to person. Thanks to effective use of vaccines, measles was virtually eliminated in the U.S. by 2000. Unfortunately, it has returned due to some children not being immunized, and there have been some notable outbreaks in recent years. Polio was a disease spread through person-to-person contact and caused issues ranging from a sore throat to death. The polio vaccine eliminated the disease in the U.S. in 1979. Varicella, more commonly known as “chicken pox,” is spread in part by coughing and sneezing. Prior to the first vaccine in 1995, around 4 million people in the U.S. contracted it every year. The total number of cases per year is down to around 12,000. (All data is courtesy of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Information Center.)

We know many are eager for a COVID-19 vaccine. In a recent survey we conducted among Chatham adults, more than 7 in 10 said they would get a vaccine for COVID-19 when it became available.

The history tells us that vaccines and immunizations play a vital role in protecting public health, which is our No. 1 job at the public health department. While we do offer some vaccines at our clinic, we encourage everyone to talk to their primary care physician or visit immunize.nc.gov to learn more about the various vaccines required for children in North Carolina.

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