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BREWSTER, NY—Back-to-school time is immunization time. As school supplies and new clothes top shopping lists around Putnam County, it is a good time to start scheduling those childhood vaccines required for school attendance in New York State. For parents of young children, it is also their last chance to participate in the health department’s vaccine survey.
“High childhood vaccination rates are critical to maintaining community-level protection against diseases that were commonplace before the advent of vaccines,” said Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD, Putnam County’s interim health commissioner. “Disruption in well-child visits and a decline in vaccine administration during the COVID-19 pandemic is well documented. In Putnam, early childhood vaccination rates fell nearly 8 percent from 70.8 percent in 2019 to 62.9 percent in 2021.” These rates put Putnam below the benchmark set by the New York State “Prevention Agenda.”
“A decline in vaccination rates make us more vulnerable to experiencing outbreaks of diseases like measles, as was demonstrated in 2018 to 2019 when the United States experienced the largest measles outbreak since virus elimination was declared in 2000,” said Dr. Nesheiwat. “During that outbreak, which was largely centered in the Hudson Valley, Putnam had higher vaccination rates and was spared the large numbers of measles cases seen in neighboring counties that had pockets of unvaccinated or under vaccinated communities.”
The decrease in Putnam’s childhood vaccination rates was noted in the recent comprehensive community health assessment. This drop steered the health department and its community partners, to select increasing early childhood vaccination rates as a top priority in the county’s health improvement plan, known as the “CHIP.”
To help understand residents’ attitudes and experiences with early childhood vaccinations and to ultimately improve these rates, the health department has been reaching out to parents and guardians of young children from two to five years of age to take a short, five-minute survey launched in June. Parents and guardians have until Monday, August 21 to provide feedback. The survey can be taken in English or Spanish and is optimized for mobile access. It can be accessed at https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/7316391/child-vac.
Dr. Nesheiwat encouraged families to call and visit their personal health care providers soon to schedule their children's immunizations since this is a busy time of year for many health care practices. He added, that “No child will be refused vaccination because of an inability to pay. Through our Vaccines for Children program here at the health department, we can provide all the vaccines that make up the early vaccination series.” The series includes the five vaccinations required for day care, pre-K, and school attendance (diphtheria and tetanus; hepatitis B; polio; measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); and varicella or chickenpox) plus two additional vaccines required for day care and pre-K.
Vaccination has been called one of the top ten U.S. public health advances of the last century, along with motor vehicle safety and the recognition of tobacco as a health hazard. Vaccines have made illness and death from early childhood diseases like rubella, diphtheria, and polio a rarity today, unlike the early 1900s, when they widely circulated and resulted in numerous fatalities. However, early childhood diseases have not been eradicated in the U.S., and worldwide in countries with lower vaccination rates, childhood diseases remain a serious health threat. Measles, for example, still circulates around the world with over 100,000 deaths annually.
To learn more about childhood vaccines and eligibility at the health department, call 845-808-1332.
The mission of the Putnam County Department of Health is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community. The department, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), serves a community composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services are provided through a lens of equity, and include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit our County website at www.putnamcountyny.com, or visit our social media sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @PutnamHealthNY.