Public Health Center to launch community vaccine clinics

The Kenai Public Health Center will introduce the first in a series of immunization clinics this Saturday in an attempt to fill medical treatment gaps in the community.

The clinics, held at the center from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every second Saturday of the month, could not come at a better time for the residents and children of Kenai. On June 9, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced that Alaska’s first case of measles in over a decade was confirmed in Fairbanks.

According to Public Health Nurse Tami Marsters, a person who comes in contact with measles and has not been vaccinated has a 90 percent chance of contracting it.

“We are always trying to increase our immunization rates,” Marsters said. “It’s always a reminder to us to keep trying to get people to get their kids vaccinated. Vaccines are one of the most studied medicines we have, and one of the most beneficial.”

According to Marsters, both measles and polio are “on the upswing,” and whooping cough is the disease most commonly contracted by un-vaccinated children.

Nurse Manager Leslie Felts said the clinics are meant to accommodate people’s schedules and to catch families who fall through the cracks of primary care.

“We are gap-fillers,” she said. “We know in this community there are new families that move in, or maybe families in transition between health insurance or between jobs, so we fill those gaps to insure that children stay up-to-date on their immunizations.”

Marsters said several common misconceptions about immunization prevent some parents from vaccinating their children.

She said the proposed link between the combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and autism spectrum disorders is one reason some parents choose not to vaccinate. The idea that too many vaccines are given at once, overwhelming a child’s immune system, is another concern for parents.

“Neither one of those are true,” Marsters said.

In 2012, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report found that Alaska had the lowest immunization rate of combined-series vaccines in the country — only 59.5 percent. In 2013, that rate climbed to 63.9 percent, putting Alaska ahead of Ohio, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

As federal funding for immunization decreased, Marsters said public health centers were not always able to vaccinate all children. Now, the state operates under the Vaccines for Children program, which distributes vaccines purchased by the CDC to clinics, allowing families be served regardless of their ability to pay.

“We’ve had several different solutions, this one being the best, in that we can again give vaccines to all kids.” Marsters said.

While Felts said the center respects the rights and opinions of parents in regard to their children, she emphasized the fact that the diseases that can be prevented with vaccines, should be.

“As school opening gets closer, we want to give (parents) the opportunity to get (their) children’s immunizations before enrollment so that the children are not eliminated from school,” she said.

The immunization clinics are scheduled to run by appointment until Nov. 14. To schedule an appointment, call the Kenai Public Health Center at 907- 335-3400.

Reach Megan Pacer at news@peninsulaclarion.com

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