You may not know that August is National Immunization Awareness Month, but the staffs of Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic and Sevier County Health Department are already very aware of it.
The Clinic and the Health Department collaborate closely this and every month to ensure that as many of their patients as possible have all the immunizations they need to keep them healthy.
When a patient comes to the Clinic requiring immunization, “we try not to duplicate services, so we refer all our (unvaccinated) patients to the Health Department for their immunizations before we accept them,” said Clinic Executive Director Mary Vance. “Anyone born outside the United States must show proof of CDC-required immunizations before we accept them as a new patient. They can receive those immunizations at the Health Department.”
This collaboration works well, says Jana Chambers, director of Sevier and Cocke County Health Departments. It’s really important to the Health Department’s goal of improving public health. The more people immunized, the less likelihood there is of diseases such as whooping cough making a return. “The more people who are not immunized, the more the likelihood” of formerly rare illnesses making a comeback, such as the measles outbreak at Disneyland recently, she said.
The Health Department sent staff to Mountain Hope to give immunizations during the Clinic’s two days of free physicals last month. That was a good opportunity for collaboration, because those patients have no health insurance, Chambers said. The Health Department does not charge uninsured patients for the vaccines, and charges a small fee on a sliding scale for administering them. Often, the patient pays nothing at all.
Among the vaccines given are MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) and TDAP — tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, better known as whooping cough, which is making a comeback. The pertussis vaccine cannot be given to newborns, so it’s important that family members become immunized before the baby is born, Chambers said.
Her departments are busy at school immunization clinics as school begins. If students haven’t had their immunizations by the first day of school, “they’re sent home,” she said.
She emphasized that immunizations are widely available in some pharmacies and in local physicians’ offices. The Health Department is not trying to compete with other health providers. “We’re here to do what we can to protect the health of the community,” she said.
Apparently it is doing a good job. In July 2015, the Sevier County Health Department received an award for being the outstanding mid-size health department in the nation.
“National Immunization Awareness Month is the perfect time for … physicians to make sure that their patients are up to date on the latest recommended adult immunization schedule,” said Nitin Damle, MD, president of the American College of Physicians.