ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Diedre Serene, administrator of the Marion County Health Department, holds the plaque she and her staff received from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for their coverage of childhood immunizations in 2006. With her are Anita Hooper (left), coordinator of the immunization program, and Shirley Burkholder, office manager and immunization clerical assistant. Not pictured is Margo O’Dell, medical and clerical assistant. For the second year in a row, the department achieved the goal of having 90 percent of children complete their primary series of childhood immunization by 24 months of age. This year the department achieved 98 percent.
Over the course of any given year, Anita Hooper makes more Marion County infants cry than almost anyone else.
And she doesn’t mind it a bit-as long as it’s in the line of duty. Hooper is the immunization coordinator at the Marion County Health Department.
“Parents often ask me if it’s hard to give shots to babies and hear them cry,” Hooper said. “I tell them no-because I know I’m saving those babies from a lot of problems later on in life.”
In fact, Hooper and her coworkers at the county health department recently were recognized for their ability to adequately vaccinate almost all 2-year-olds living in this county.
The Marion County Health Department was one of only seven departments in the state to receive the VFC Immunization Award from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Immunization Program.
The award is presented to departments that vaccinate at least 90 percent of the eligible infants in their county. This was the second consecutive year Marion County has received the award.
This past year, the department achieved 98 percent coverage for the primary series of childhood immunizations by 24 months of age. The evaluation was based on the 92 records for 2-year-olds.
“Our levels are usually pretty high, but the last two years we’ve been above 95 percent both years,” she said.
Hooper credits the achievement to persistent reminders to parents who have children that are due for their shots.
“We send reminder post cards when immunizations are due,” she said. “And when parents come in for a WIC (KDHE’s Women Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program) appointment, we look at the immunization records and encourage parents to get immunizations at that time.
“The doctor offices are good about reminding parents when vaccines are needed, too,” she added. “We also work real close with school nurses and Head Start. They remind parents when it’s time to get vaccines, too.”
As their children reach school age, parents have additional motivation to ensure their youngsters are up-to-date on their shots. Four of the five school districts in the county-Hillsboro being the exception-have a policy that children will not be accepted as students until their immunizations are current.
More than for children
The priority for the department’s immunization services is children-but not only for the sake of those youngsters, according to Hooper.
“The more protected our children are, the more protected we are as a whole community,” she said. “Vaccine not only protects the person, but everyone who comes in contact with that person.”
According to guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the “primary series” of childhood immunizations includes four injections for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP), three for inactivated poliovirus (IPV), one for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), three for haemophilus influenza type B (HOB) and three for hepatitis B (HEP B).
Hooper said immunization for hepatitis B is now required for school entry, and that the Kansas Legislature decided this year that children should be immunized for chicken pox before they enter kindergarten.
“We also offer adolescent immunizations,” she said. “We have the new (DTap) for adolescents and we offer (vaccination for) meningitis for adolescents going off for college.
“New recommendations will be to include younger adolescents for the meningitis,” she added. “They’re realizing that some of our high school kids have that same risk factor as college students have-they are close together in proximity, and they share pop and those kinds of things.”
Hooper has a word of encouragement for parents whose children have fallen behind the recommended timetable for vaccinations. (See chart.)
“It’s never too late for parents to come in and get those children caught up,” she said.
Like most health departments, Marion County’s offers vaccinations beyond the ones required for infants.
“We also offer hepatitis B and tetanus (shots) for adults,” she said. “We have a lot of travelers that take advantage of that.
“This area also has a lot of teenagers who do charity and missions work in places like Mexico, where hepatitis is endemic,” she said. “So we offer hepatitis A and B shots before they travel there.”
Flu shots, too
One of the most popular requests this time of year, and across the age spectrum, is for flu shots-and it’s not too late to get one for this flu season.
“Flu season lasts clear until March,” Hooper said. “Your peak protection from flu is the first three months after you get (a shot). Then the protection wanes slightly for the next three to four months.”
She said the supply of flu vaccine this year has been adequate, if slower than usual to arrive.
“We’ve been getting small shipments each week, but we are getting it,” Hooper said. “The supply is there; it’s just shipping slowly.”
She said the health department has flu vaccine for children as young as 4 years old. From there, age is no limit. But young children and senior adults are primary audiences for Hooper and her staff.
“We’re trying to get to the senior centers yet,” Hooper said. “We have several outside clinics scheduled in different communities for flu vaccines.”
Beyond flu shots, Hooper said pneumonia shots are being frequently requested this season, particularly by senior citizens and people who have a history of respiratory problems.
“If you get one before you’re age 65, you need another one five years later,” Hooper said. “If you get one after 65, you don’t need to repeat that. Your body builds enough immunity.
“And you should have only two shots in a lifetime.”
Hooper said her office also has a pneumonia vaccine for children called Prevnar.
“It helps fight against infant pneumonia and it even helps prevents ear infections,” she said. “They’re recommending it for all children.”
Hooper said the office at 230 E. Main in Marion offers immunizations every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. They can also be arranged by appointment by calling 620-382-2550.
Hooper said the cost of immunizations should not keep anyone for getting one.
“We file insurance and cost is never a barrier,” she said. “For, parents who cannot afford the vaccine, vaccine will still be provided for them.”