Whether it's influenza, whopping cough, human papillomavirus or meningitis, public health officials agree that immunization is the safest, most effective way to protect against vaccine-preventable diseases.
The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) hosted the 20th annual Immunize Georgia (IG) conference at Callaway Gardens on Sept. 12 as a reminder of the importance of immunization in Georgia.
“We recognize that one of the most important and effective strategies open to public health in terms of improving the population’s health is immunization,” said Patrick O’Neal, M.D., DPH’s director of health protection and one of the speakers at the conference. “Immunization is something that public health has at its core to strategically bring great value to improving public health.”
Each year at the IG conference, public health immunization champions are recognized for their leadership and influence in getting Georgians immunized.
Angie Webster, an immunization program consultant at DPH, was the recipient of the 2013 Clay Coleman Excellence in Customer Service Award. The award honors staff members who demonstrate passion, enthusiasm and innovation in the provision of services, expertise or technical assistance to any immunization stakeholder, including the public.
Lindsey Kidd, a nurse manager at the Oconee County Health Department, and Gloria Melvin, immunization coordinator for the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale county health departments, nominated Webster for the award. Melvin said Webster’s extensive knowledge and constant support make their immunization programs what they are.
“Angie is always willing to help and put her best foot forward for immunizations,” Melvin said.
“I feel honored and overwhelmed,” Webster said. “It is exciting to get the award and know that my peers appreciate the work that I do. It validates that my district peers feel that I do a good job.”
Webster said it’s important to educate the public about immunizations because when children are not vaccinated, illnesses can spread quickly and cause absenteeism from school and interruption with work schedules for so many families.
“Because some parents opt not to immunize their children for personal or religious reasons, we do see an increase for some vaccine-preventable diseases, such as pertussis, measles and mumps. It is usually in pockets or areas. However, when children and adults are immunized, it keeps the disease rates low,” Webster said.
IG conference attendees also celebrated with recipients of the 2013 Walt Orenstein Champions for Immunization Awards, which honor individuals, agencies or coalitions that demonstrate excellence in providing immunization care.
Nancy Stackhouse, a licensed practical nurse with the Cherokee County Health Department, was recognized for her collaboration and partnership in the community as a champion for immunization. She was also the recipient of the 2011 CDC Immunization Champion Award. Her co-workers know that Stackhouse’s influence goes a long way with members of the community.
“Her word was law, and the immunization rates for schools and day cares maintained a consistent level well above 90 percent,” said Ann G. Vossen, retired immunization coordinator for the North Georgia Health District 1-2. “In my 40 years in public health, Nancy Stackhouse stands out from the many nurses that I encountered at local, district and state positions. Her commitment to quality service is exemplary.”
The Whitfield County Health Department Children’s Clinic was recognized because its staff “ensures all recommended vaccines for children and adults are readily available to the community.” In 2012, nearly 8,000 adults and children received a vaccine at the clinic, a total of more than 14,000 immunizations. Vaccines were provided in the health department as well as churches, senior centers, schools, child care centers, private businesses and physicians’ offices. The clinic also provides the flu vaccine to the county’s homeless residents at no cost each year.
In the Coastal Health District, Jennifer VanMeter was recognized as a nurse who seeks out opportunities to vaccinate and always provides children and their parents with complete information that they can understand.
“She advocates and educates parents and patients on immunizations multiple times on a daily basis,” said Kalen Garrison, a physician assistant in pediatrics with the Southcoast Medical Group. “She will administer immunizations during lunch time any day to ensure that every child is able to receive them. She uses every office visit as an opportunity to assess vaccination status.”
The “Immunization Blitz” team at Registration and Health Information and the Allergy Travel Clinic, part of the University Health Center at the University of Georgia in Athens, was recognized for immunizing college students to protect them from all vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly meningitis. Martha Davis Gollin, associate director of patient services at the University Health Center, said a big success story for the clinic is the annual process of ensuring that students meet the immunization requirements for registration.
“To look at the big picture, consider that in the fall of 2012, 7,445 new students enrolled, with a 98.9-percent accuracy rate in immunization data entry by Registration and Health Information. UGA has just completed registration for the fall of 2013, and the accuracy rate appears to be holding or even exceeding this level of outstanding performance,” she said.
DPH congratulates all the award winners from this year’s conference and extends heartfelt thanks for the work they do to protect Georgia’s health.