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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Proactive immunization is a win-win for all

Published: Wednesday, October 7, 2015

By KIMBERLY HORTON
Health Department columnist

If you’ve ever read Stephen Covey’s book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," you may remember the very first habit that was basic to own before moving forward with the other six. Covey wrote of the importance of being proactive, not reactive. It means being responsible for taking charge of how we respond to what is happening around us.

I believe that being proactive was one of many qualities that the judges recognized in awarding the Samuel L. Katz, MD, Excellence in Immunization Award to Kristina Henderson, RN, of the Henderson County Department of Public Health. This award recognizes individuals/agencies/groups that have developed innovative strategies, projects or programs to increase immunization rates. Henderson accepted the prestigious award at the 2015 N.C. Immunization Conference in August on behalf of the Henderson County Immunization Coalition (HCIC), the first such coalition in Henderson County but also the only locally operated one in Western North Carolina.

“This is a powerful testament to how greatly needed and appreciated our efforts have been in our region. In our six months of existence, we have not only increased the public awareness for the importance of immunizing, but we earned the recognition of our colleagues at the state level,” Henderson said enthusiastically. “With assistance and materials from Buncombe County Health and Human Services Be a Hero campaign, coalition members have been motivated to spend time with their patients’ parents to answer concerns. Parents are leaving confident in their decision to vaccinate their child.”

Whether or not HCIC had Covey’s habit in mind when they organized in December 2014, I don’t know. But I can tell you that their motivations and actions are 100 percent proactive.

Sharing a common concern and goal to increase immunization rates, the Department of Public Health, Hendersonville Pediatrics, Rainbow Pediatrics, Park Ridge Pediatrics, Hendersonville Family Health Center and Blue Ridge Community Health Services are partnering together to address concerns about vaccinations and to decrease barriers to receiving vaccine-preventable diseases.

Pediatric providers talk empathetically with parents who are hesitant to vaccinate or just need more information about vaccines. They have heartfelt discussions about how immunizing the majority of the community creates a protection of herd immunity for the few who refuse vaccines and for those too young or immune-compromised to receive vaccines.

Someone else who appreciates the coalition’s work is Board of Health member Dr. Jerald Pyles. He knows the importance of herd immunity as a medical doctor but also as the grandparent of his 8-year-old Murphy who is unable to receive many vaccines. In a recent letter to the editor, he writes that “there are plenty of ‘Murphys’ here and across the country who would like to receive vaccines but can’t because they are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine or their immune systems are too weak for the vaccines to be effective.”

As Pyles states, Murphy's best chance to remain free of serious childhood diseases year after year is to avoid infected, contagious individuals in the first place and to depend on herd immunity. And that is hard to do if immunization rates in a community are low. 

But they don’t have to be, which is exactly why HCIC was formed. Instead of wishing immunization rates were higher, the coalition is proactively finding ways to make that happen. Instead of reacting to myths and rumors about vaccines, the coalition is being proactive to provide the facts. They are empowering parents with knowledge about vaccines, which will result in all children being safer from vaccine-preventable diseases. It’s a win-win for all.

 


Kimberly Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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