Reflection on Are Vaccinations Everybody's Business, Spokane for Newsletter

A Reflection on Are Vaccinations Everybody's Business?, A Spokane Community Conversation facililtated by Anna Halloran, Alexandra Hayes (both Spokane Regional Health District) and Aaron Putzke (Whitworth)

Goosebumps.  I got goosebumps because NWABR’s Community Conversation achieved a significant goal during our “Vaccines” event in Spokane, WA last week.  Conversation participants had both favorable and unfavorable viewpoints about childhood vaccinations.  Several people remarked to the facilitator that they were pleasantly surprised that people holding different positions on vaccination were pleasantly surprised that people holding different positions on vaccination were well educated and able to have a respectful dialogue with one another.  Way to go, Spokane! When we dialogue respectfully with one another about controversies in science and medicine, or any topic for that matter, we can often find common ground while reinforcing the dignity and value of our neighbor. Better science, better public health, better relationships. Hence Community Conversation.

Spokane County, like King County in Western WA, has been hit hard by this winter’s mumps outbreak.  As of March 1st, there were 550 probable and confirmed cases in WA state.  In Washington, the public is well-vaccinated for mumps, at 86.3% in 2014, which has largely protected the community; had vaccination rates been lower, this outbreak would have been larger.  During NWABR’s Community Conversation in Spokane last week, attendees discussed the outbreak along with other key points about childhood vaccinations.

Attendees were instructed to consider vaccinations and the weight of individual choice versus community good. Vaccinations are most protective for whole communities when the vaccination rate reaches a certain high percentage (the threshold differs for each infectious organism), meaning that nearly all individuals who CAN receive vaccinations DO receive them.  Some individuals prefer to refuse vaccination for themselves or their children for a variety of reasons. What is up for debate is whether individuals should be able to refuse vaccination at the cost of not protecting their own kids and the broader community.

During our Conversation, attendees were not as concerned about this classic debate as they were about elevating the dialogue in order to benefit the public broadly.  There were two (2) key discussion points. Some of the participants had personal experiences with what they perceived to be adverse vaccine reactions and are concerned about vaccine safety.  They acknowledged that their experiences were at an individual level and that not all people will have this experience.  Even so, they expressed the difficulty of identifying useful, reliable information about vaccines, their safety and potential side effects. 

The second key point was that people want a better flow of information from public health authorities and primary care physicians to the public.  The recent mumps outbreak has accentuated these challenges, noted by one family who homeschools their children and hope that communication is more streamlined in the future.

For more information about the Washington State mumps outbreak, visit the Washington State Department of Health’s website.

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