by Jennifer Mullendor, medical director of Buncombe County Health and Human Services
Buncombe County usually ranks high in the state for healthy behaviors and quality medical care. Unfortunately, there is one area where we are dead last: immunizations. The percent of Buncombe County kindergarteners who have not received all their required immunizations is about five times higher than the North Carolina average. Most of these children’s parents claimed a non-medical reason for not vaccinating their children. Our goal at Buncombe County Health and Human Services is to assure that parents and our community understand the benefits of immunizations.
Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases happen when people are not immunized. These diseases result in illness, disability and death, missed school and work, loss of income and increased health care costs.
Most young parents in the U.S. have never seen the devastating effects that diseases like polio, measles or whooping cough can have on a family. But talk to anyone who grew up prior to the late 1960s, and they’ll tell you of those who suffered and died as a result of these illnesses. It’s easy to think of these diseases as things of the past, but they are making a comeback in communities with low immunization rates. In 2010, there were 68 cases of whooping cough reported in Buncombe County. In 2013, N.C. had an outbreak of 23 cases of measles. As of mid-July 2014, there have been 580 cases of measles and 911 cases of mumps in the U.S. These are diseases that had practically disappeared from the U.S. over the past several decades — thanks to immunizations.
We know that most people choose to immunize, building a shield of protection around themselves and our community. Unfortunately, it only takes a few who are not immunized to create cracks in the shield. The health of our community depends on very high rates of immunized people. Keeping our community shield strong is especially important for those who either cannot be immunized or are most vulnerable including infants, the elderly and those with weak immune systems or other medical conditions.
Buncombe County Health and Human Services is working to increase awareness of what immunizations mean to the health of all in our community. Our goal is to provide opportunities for everyone to learn more about the benefits of immunizations. As a family doctor and public health official, I urge parents to study the facts, ask questions and have conversations with trusted medical providers. Consider what it would be like if your child was exposed to a disease like pertussis or measles, both of which can be deadly.
It’s also important to remember that immunizations don’t end in childhood. There are immunizations for all stages of life including pregnancy, young adulthood and older age. Please talk with your healthcare provider about immunizations. You can also visit our website at buncombecounty.org/vaccine for more information.
What we do matters. Shield our community from serious vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths. Get immunized. Protect yourself, those you love, those who cannot be vaccinated and our entire community by getting recommended immunizations.
Dr. Jennifer Mullendore received her medical degree from the Georgetown University School of Medicine and graduated from the Moses Cone Family Medicine Residency Program in Greensboro, N.C. After receiving her Master’s of Science in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, she began working at the Buncombe County Health Center. She is currently the medical director for Buncombe County Health and Human Services and a member of the Western Carolina Medical Society.