Originally published Sep 19, 2011
The 18th Annual Immunize Georgia conference drew a crowd of almost 400 healthcare professionals to north central Georgia in Macon. With a packed agenda, state health officials, public health staff, school nurses, and pharmaceutical companies convened to address methods to get Georgia’s children immunized against pertussis, flu, and other childhood preventable diseases.
“The overall message was clear,” said Anil Mangla, Ph.D., Director of Infectious Disease and Immunization. “If you plan to come in contact with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors or strangers of any age this flu season, roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated.”
That message was made unexpectedly clear by Mr. William “Buddy” Clements, one of this year’s Immunize Georgia Conference presenters. Clements’ granddaughter, Lilliana, was only five weeks old when she had a terrible and persistent cough. She was diagnosed with pertussis and almost did not live to see her first birthday. The pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is NOT recommended for babies her age. Mr. Clements joined Dr. Mangla and others in demonstrating why the whole family has to be vaccinated to stop the spread of flu and/or pertussis to persons at risk.
The morning speakers continued the central message to get the whole family vaccinated. While we know vaccines save lives, there are parents who opt out of getting their children vaccinated. Dr. Gary S. Marshall, Professor of Pediatrics, Chief, Division of Pediatric Infection Diseases, at the University of Louisville School of Medicine explained why some parents may not get their children immunized against flu and pertussis. “Fear of vaccines can lead to public harm” was one of the three immunization truths that Dr. Marshall addressed to the audience. He addressed the media frenzy about autism. He pointed out that vaccines do NOT cause autism. Dr. Marshall polled the audience to see if they had ever signed or condoned a vaccine exemption because of fear or perception by a parent. There were many who had received the exemptions to allow a child to enroll in school.
“My experience in school health has been that parents, who claim religious exemption, actually have philosophical reasons,” said Sharon McClung, Director of Health Services, Georgia Military College/Prep School. “Since Georgia does not allow for this reason, they claim religious exemption, which covers the school entrance requirement.”
To close out the morning session, Dr. Sandra Fryhofer reported on another important vaccine, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is recommended for adolescents/youth. Vaccination is a family affair that she not only promotes to patients but also to teenagers. A practicing general internist and clinical associate professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, Fryhofer’s daughter received the HPV vaccine to protect her from cervical cancer. Although a permissive recommendation for males, Dr. Fryhofer’s son has also received the HPV vaccine. “The HPV vaccine is important if given before the exposure, which usually occurs at the onset of sexual activity.”
As the conference wrapped up, Dr. William Atkins, MD, MPH, Medical Epidemiologist, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, added that infants are most likely to be hospitalized or die from pertussis. “If a woman receives Tdap before or during pregnancy, her passive immunity might help protect the newborn from pertussis.”
This medical recommendation could have made a difference in the life of Mr. Clements’ granddaughter at 5 weeks old or before she was ever born. Dr. Fryhofer also addressed this medical point in her earlier presentation.
In conjunction with the Immunize Georgia conference, the North Central Health District announced its school-based clinics for flu vaccine, a solution providing parents easy access and scheduling for in-school immunizations. The premise behind the school-based program is that healthy kids have good attendance and healthy kids can learn.
At the news conference, State Representative Nikki T. Randall rolled up her sleeve for the shot. “This is my first flu shot,” said Representative Randall. “I missed three days of the legislative session because of the flu. I was sick with a fever, chills and felt just awful.”
Dr. David N. Harvey, District Health Director applauded State Representative Randall and local partners for rolling up their sleeves as leaders in the community. “As the North Central Health District, we are glad to partner with the community in supporting flu vaccine clinics to make it easy for the whole family to get flu shots, especially school-age children. We deserve a healthier Macon.”
With the success of the Immunize Georgia Conference, young children in general will not have to worry as much about the spread of flu or pertussis this season.