Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

National immunization advocates to speak Thursday in Coeur d’Alene

In this  2009 file photo, a patient gets a flu shot. (Mary Ann Chastain / Associated Press)

Two nationally known advocates for childhood immunizations will give a free talk in Coeur d’Alene on Thursday.

Patricia Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner from Minnesota who specializes in infectious diseases, and Dr. William Atkinson, a retired epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are keynote speakers at the event.

Thursday’s talk is sponsored by the Panhandle Health District and includes opportunities for audience members to ask questions about vaccines, their safety and effectiveness, said Lora Whalen, the health district’s director.

“We want people to get educated and to get educated from the right sources,” Whalen said. “There’s so much information out there. … I can see how parents could get confused.”

In North Idaho, about 73 percent of first-graders and seventh-graders are considered “adequately immunized,” according to 2015 information from the school districts. Benewah County had the highest percentage of students who were up to date on their immunizations at 80 percent. In other counties, the rate was: Kootenai, 75 percent; Bonner, 71 percent; Shoshone, 67 percent; and Boundary, 50 percent.

Some diseases, such as polio and smallpox, have been largely eradicated through immunization, which can lead to complacency about the importance of childhood vaccinations, Whalen said.

But even common illnesses, such as the flu and whooping cough, can lead to serious complications, she said.

“Flu is not the common cold. It can lead to severe respiratory complications, including death or the need to be on a respirator,” Whalen said. And, “whooping cough is one of the most horrible things to watch, as a child struggles for breath.”

In other cases, misinformation about the safety of vaccines persists, she said.

In the late 1990s, a British doctor published a medical paper erroneously linking the vaccine that protects against mumps, measles and rubella to an increased risk of autism in children. The research by Andrew Wakefield was later discredited and multiple studies have shown that the vaccine is safe, Whalen said. But Wakefield’s claims have been tied to a drop in immunization rates in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Some people can’t be vaccinated because they’re too young, or because they have immune-related diseases or other health issues, Whalen noted. That’s why high vaccination rates are important in the rest of the population. They produce a “herd immunity” that prevents diseases from sweeping through a population.

The importance of vaccination doesn’t end in childhood. At age 16, for instance, adolescents should receive booster shots of the vaccine that protects against meningitis. And the HPV vaccine, typically given to boys and girls at age 11 to 12, can be administered through age 26. The vaccine protects against cervical and vaginal cancer in women; penile cancer in men; and anal and throat cancer in both women and men.

Grandparents and other adults should be aware of how their own immunization history affects infants and young children, Whalen said

Before holding a newborn it’s a good idea to check whether you’ve been vaccinated for whooping cough, she said.