Charting a Path to a Healthier Future

LincolnHealth

In 2014, Maine had the second highest rate of pertussis (whooping cough) in the country. Halfway through that year, Lincoln County had one of the highest rates of pertussis in the state.

To Lincoln Medical Partners pediatrician Andy Russ, MD, that trend was about more than statistics. He had watched tiny infants struggle for breath. For a healthy child, whooping cough is a serious disease, with symptoms that include severe coughing, vomiting and exhaustion. For infants, it can be fatal or result in pneumonia, convulsions and brain damage.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Maine had one of the highest rates of parents opting out of vaccines in the nation, with 5.2 percent choosing not to have their children vaccinated. As more parents were opting out of vaccines, the herd immunity that keeps children safe — even if they have not been immunized — had been decimated.

In September 2014, only 32 percent of Lincoln Medical Partner patients under the age of 2 had all their recommended vaccinations. The problem is all too common throughout the nation, but the effort that Dr. Russ and Lincoln Medical Partners developed to help resolve that problem may be unique, at least in Maine.

To help more parents get their children immunized, Lincoln Medical Partners Pediatrics developed a series of free catch-up immunization clinics to offer the standard childhood immunizations to any family. The clinics featured fair-like atmospheres with Apple iPad door prizes, and were held on Saturday mornings in a variety of locations to make it easier for parents who had a hard time making it to appointments during the week. Each parent who attended received a free $10 gas card.

A campaign on Facebook and in local newspapers publicized the clinics and featured the personal stories of parents who chose to vaccinate their children, as well as the stories of parents whose children could not be vaccinated for health reasons. Posters were placed in all Lincoln Medical Partners offices. Letters went out to the parents of 3,800 children and adolescents seen in Lincoln Medical Partners practices emphasizing the importance of vaccinations along with the clinic times and dates.

The result was that a total of 183 children participated and vaccination rates climbed significantly. As of September 2015, 50 percent of all Lincoln Medical Partners patients under the age of 2 were up to date with their immunizations.

That doesn’t mean the problem is solved. The vaccination rate in Lincoln County overall is still too low, and Lincoln Medical Partners pediatricians, including Dr. Russ, are still working to increase the vaccination rate by offering good information and building relationships one family at a time.

But Lincoln County is now a safer place for children, and with the vaccination rate moving in the right direction, there is hope it will be healthier still in the future.

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