Monday Medical: Vaccines help protect the community | SteamboatToday.com

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Monday Medical: Vaccines help protect the community

— A letter to the editor published in the Sept. 3 Steamboat Today titled "The right thing to do" focused on the importance of childhood immunizations.

It was signed by 29 physicians and health care providers. Follow-up discussion has highlighted additional information about this issue.

"Recently, a case of the measles came through the Denver airport," said Dana Fitzgerald, M.D., a pediatrician with Pediatrics of Steamboat Springs. "Although we are an isolated community, we still see these diseases that are preventable — whooping cough and chicken pox, for example.

"If you talk to doctors, you will likely hear that they have seen children who died or became severely ill from vaccine-preventable diseases. It is important for parents to know that vaccines save lives."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infant immunizations have had an enormous effect on improving children's health.

Anne Schuchat, M.D., assistant surgeon general and director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, reports that routine childhood immunizations save 42,000 lives and prevent 20 million cases of disease each year.

Although vaccine-preventable diseases are not common in the U.S., they persist across the world. Outbreaks of measles are at record levels in Europe, and the U.S. is experiencing a record number of imported cases this year, raising the threat of spread in local communities, the CDC reports.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that many diseases do not occur or spread as much as they used to, thanks to better nutrition, less crowded living conditions, antibiotics and, most importantly, vaccines. However, the Academy states this does not mean the bacteria and viruses responsible for these diseases have disappeared.

"Because there has been a decrease in diseases such as polio, measles or pneumococcal pneumonia, many parents don't recognize that the diseases may still surface," said David Niedermeier, M.D., a family medicine physician with Steamboat Medical Group.

"The reason we don't know anyone who has experienced polio or whooping cough is that over the years, the vaccinations for these serious diseases have been very effective," he said.

"The vast majority of physicians support the current guidelines for vaccinations recommended by the CDC because the guidelines are based on studies done on huge populations with excellent data."

Janice Poirot, R.N., public health nurse at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association also is an advocate of immunization.

"Vaccines are a safe and effective method of protecting your child, and at the same time they protect the entire community from the spread of serious diseases," she said.

Dot Haberlan, R.N., head nurse for School Health Services for Routt County Public Schools, works in schools to provide vaccines to children.

"We try and make it as easy as we can for children to be immunized," Haberlan said.

"As employees of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, we bring immunizations into the schools, and we help families who need financial assistance.

"Parents should know that all our children in Routt County Public schools are in compliance with the Colorado law, which means they are up-to-date on their immunizations or their parents have signed the exemption," Haberlan said.

"If there is some kind of outbreak … the students who have not been immunized will be excluded from school for the length of the outbreak. Students can miss as much as three to four weeks of school if that happens. This is another good reason to have your child immunized."

Information on the topic is abundant on the Web. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation in the media and on the Web about vaccines," Niedermeier said. "We recommend basing health care decisions on sound science."

The family physician said parents can use several reliable sources to gather information on vaccines, schedules and updates, including the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov, the American Association of Pediatricians at http://www.aap.org, Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition at http://www.immunizeforgood.com, or the Colorado Department of Health at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/immunization/Vaccinate.

Rosie Kern is a communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at rosie.kern@yvmc.org.