Christine Nefcy

Nefcy

Working to ensure the health of our communities and keep northern Michigan residents out of a hospital is a big part of our role at Munson Healthcare.

As a pediatrician and chief medical officer for Munson Healthcare, I look at the current pandemic as a threat in more ways than one. It is important not to lose focus on the things we need to do to keep COVID-19 in check until we have a viable vaccine — but we also need to prevent any opportunity to allow other vaccine-preventable diseases get a foothold in the region.

As we enter the colder months and head toward the time when the snow flies, people need to think about preventing flu, whooping cough, mumps and other threats to children and adults that typically show up in winter.

Let me put it in words that I would use with my young patients — it’s time to put your armor on.

This means getting the appropriate vaccine — a without-a-doubt proven method to protect yourself and loved ones, as well as help maintain healthy communities.

It is clear that the necessary safety measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, which included office/clinic closings and shelter-in-place requests, have led to an unintentional dramatic drop in immunization rates for everyone, but particularly among children.

In Michigan, the number of childhood vaccines administered dropped by as much as 22 percent during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a CDC report from earlier this summer. The CDC also reported earlier this year that fewer than half (49.7 percent) of 5-month-old children were up to date on all recommended immunizations, as compared to the 67.3 percent average in 2016-2019.

Additionally, the number of non-influenza vaccines administered and reported for children aged 18 and under dropped by 21.5 percent between Jan and April 2020, when compared to similar periods in 2018 and 2019, also according to the CDC.

The Northern Michigan Vaccine Preventable Disease Task Force — a collaboration among experts from Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department, Grand Traverse County Health Department, Health Department of Northwest Michigan, Munson Healthcare, the Northern Physicians Organization (NPO), and Wexford Physician Hospital Organization (PHO) — is deeply concerned.

As a result of these extremely low numbers, our state and northern Michigan region could be on the brink of a preventable disease outbreak, this is especially concerning when considering the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccines continue to remain one of the single most effective deterrents, and in some cases — such as measles, mumps, and polio — the only protection against disease. These vaccines work with your child’s natural defenses to help them safely develop long-term protection from diseases.

As we continue to face COVID-19 and the possibility of a second wave of outbreaks in the coming months, focusing on general disease prevention and immunizations, especially in our children, is more critical than ever. Please consider calling your primary care provider to schedule up-to-date immunizations, especially for children ages 18 years and under.

Offices and clinics are clean, safe and incorporate all safety precautions — including health screenings of both patients and staff, routine cleaning and disinfecting of facilities, universal masking and staggered appointments to promote social distancing.

Vaccines aren’t just for kids. Adults need to get their annual flu shot and may need vaccines to protect against whooping cough, pneumonia and shingles. Ask your doctor about vaccines you may need for your age, health conditions, job or lifestyle.

Families without insurance may be able to get vaccinations at lower or no cost. For more information, go to VaccinateYourFamily.org/paying-for-vaccines.

These days are challenging, but when we all do our part to protect those around us through vaccinations, masking, social distancing and appropriate hand hygiene, we are taking back our communities from these unseen invaders and positioning ourselves to keep things as open and back to normal as possible until a vaccine for SARS-COV-2 is available.

Thank you for your continued efforts to make our communities safe by putting your armor on.

Dr. Christine Nefcy is Chief Medical Officer of Munson Healthcare.

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