No child should be left behind when it comes to immunizations.
Kim Schrier has made it one of her top priorities during her first six months in office.
The pediatrician-turned-U.S. Congresswoman carried the message to Auburn on Thursday afternoon, where she urged families to get their kids vaccinated before school starts up again.
“Taking care of your kids and getting them immunized is one of the most important things you can do for them and the community,” Schrier told a gathering outside HealthPoint Auburn North, the nonprofit, community-supported health clinic that hosted the event.
“Who knew that as a pediatrician entered Congress we would have a measles outbreak, and that some of us who work in the medical field could have predicted that this was a ticking time bomb?” she said.
To date, Auburn is among a dozen confirmed-measles-cases-and-exposure locations in King County this year.
The number of measles cases in the United States has hit a 25-year high this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Schrier, a Democrat from Issaquah who represents the 8th District, introduced in May the VACCINES (Vaccine Awareness Campaign to Champion Immunization Nationally and Enhance Safety) Act, which will increase immunization rates throughout the country and prevent future outbreaks of contagious diseases like the measles.
The VACCINES Act is under review in the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee. Schrier is optimistic the bill will garner enough bipartisan support from the House and Senate to pass.
“It’s really hard right now to find bills that get support from both sides of the aisle,” said Schrier, the first pediatrician and only female physician in Congress. “The point is it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you want kids getting immunizations. You want facts out there, not hyperbole and misinformation, and we want a healthy population.”
The VACCINES Act recommends funding for the CDC to conduct surveillance research and run a national public messaging campaign.
Schrier stressed the importance of getting the message out to parents who may be hesitant or afraid to immunize their children. One way to do it, she said, is to have “a compelling story go toe to toe with the dramatic misinformation that is all over the Web.”
Anti-vaccination sentiment is out there, Schrier noted, carried by parents who have chosen not to immunize their children because of health concerns, or religious and philosophical reasons.
Schrier, the doctor, wants to inform the public and lay some of those fears to rest.
“When parents go online to type in MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), what they should see first is a story about how the MMR vaccine is saving lives,” Schrier said. “They should see a quick video of a 75-year-old doctor telling a story about when he held a child in his arms with measles and how relieved he is that it was a thing of the past.”
Schrier also took a moment to praise the work of the clinic.
“We value community health centers like HealthPoint,” she said. “(It’s) a safety net where people can come when they don’t have a primary care doctor, when they’re in between insurance, when they are on Medicaid and may not have a local provider who accepts it, when for whatever reason they can’t be insured. … This is really foundational and … represents the best in our country to recognize that we all benefit from a healthy, well-nourished, well-educated population.”
HealthPoint CEO Tom Trompeter noted that his center has been working closely in recent years with the community, with schools, and with other partners to address immunizations.
Last year at HealthPoint, the number of children under the age of 2 who were immunized was up by 11 percent over the previous year, Trompeter said.
During the measles outbreak earlier this year, HealthPoint worked with Public Health – Seattle & King County to provide MMR vaccinations to those in need at no cost.
“We’re proud of our work in immunizations and quality care,” Trompeter said, “and this really is an effort that requires partnerships.”