Local health experts bring awareness to declining immunization rates among children

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KENNEWICK, Wash. — Every year, health care experts bring awareness to protecting children two years and younger from vaccine-preventable diseases during National Infant Immunization Week every April 24th through the 30th.

Due to the pandemic, our community has additional challenges, and the entire United States is witnessing immunization rates decreasing, according to the Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD).

Heather Hill, a public health nurser with more than 40 years of experience and the current communicable disease program manager at BFHD, said, as we are going into post-COVID time, that we have a lot of kids in our community who are not up to date on their immunizations, which makes them vulnerable to those vaccines’ preventable diseases.”

Hill said we have already seen an outbreak of measles in the Northeast and Southwest areas of Washington State. 

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“When we look at the effects on children who do catch these diseases, anywhere from mild illness to sometimes there are lifelong effects from catching these diseases such as infertility, death and brain damage,” Hill said.

40 to 50 years ago, Hill said that the effects of meningitis, measles, mumps and other vaccine-preventable diseases were devastating. Due to the vaccines, she said that we have rarely seen these types of outbreaks, but as long as immunization rates decline, children are at risk. 

“It is a lot better and a lot healthier on that child to prevent the disease by using vaccines, rather than that child getting that disease and see what the outcome is. Your child’s outcome of catching that disease might be just fine, but the next child it could actually kill them or cause permanent lifelong damage.” – Heath Hill

Dr. Sonika Loona, a Pediatrician with the Pasco Primary Care with Kadlec Medical Center, said that it is vital for parents to stick to the CDC recommended schedule for vaccine doses by age group for the best immune response. 

“Immunizations start early, right after birth. The first immunization is given 24 hours after the child is born before they leave the hospital. That is Hepatitis B which is the first vaccine they get. It’s because as soon as the baby is born, they will go home and be exposed to bacteria, to the virus which is out in the community,” said Dr. Loona.

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Dr. Loona and Nurse Hill all recommend that you reach out and ask your child’s doctor all the questions you have before you make any life-changing decisions for your child.

“Sometimes, as a parent, I am a parent myself; we do have a lot of concerns and questions about the vaccines for our children. Please reach out to your child’s doctor with your concerns and questions before you decide you do not want to get the vaccines for your children.” -Dr. Sonika Loona

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Learn more about the CDC’s recommendations for children’s immunizations at www.CDC.govStay up to date with the latest health news on the Benton-Franklin Health District’s website www.bfhd.wa.gov.