MAYVILLE – Vaccine hesitancy remains an issue both locally and nationally.
And it’s not just the COVID-19 vaccine.
During the recent Chautauqua County Board of Health meeting, board members discussed the need for a vaccine for things like polio and monkeypox.
There has been one confirmed case of polio in Rockland County. Effluent monitoring showed polio in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Nassau counties, as well as in New York.
“They provide evidence that the unvaccinated individual resident of Rockland County with paralytic polio contracted the virus through local transmission, not overseas or international transmission.” explained Christine Schuyler, director of public health. “One way to prevent this is to get immunized.”
Schuyler said that since the announcement that polio was found in the state, her office has received calls from adults wanting to get the vaccine. “There is currently no recommendation for this polio, so payers are not paying for it,” she said.
Board of Health member Dr Tariq Khan said he had spoken to a school principal about school-age students who had not been vaccinated. “There are a large number of families who homeschool because the children are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated. The number is incredible,” he said, without identifying the number of students or the head of the school.
According to the State Department of Health’s website, vaccines against polio, diphtheria and tetanus, pertussis, varicella (chicken pox) and measles, mumps and rubella are required for children attending day care and children in kindergarten through 12th grade in the state of New York. This includes all public, private and religious schools. A medical exception is allowed when a child has a medical condition that prevents them from receiving a vaccine. There are no non-medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements in the state.
Health Board President Dr. Lillian Ney expressed her concern that there may be parents who did not get their children vaccinated during COVID and need to catch up before enrolling them in school. She noted how the Legislature rejected a $75,000 grant earlier this year that was supposed to be used to educate parents and others about the importance of vaccines.
Hahn said he believes parents who want to vaccinate their children do so; he is concerned about parents who do not allow their children to receive vaccines.
County physician Dr. Robert Berke shared a story about a man he knew in college whose parents wouldn’t let him get vaccinated when he was younger. While in college, the young man goes on a mission trip to Mexico. “He came back on crutches, paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life,” he said.
Berke said it’s important for parents to realize the impact their decision can have on their child’s life. “These parents think they are very smart now. They forget when the kid is 17, 18, 19, mobile and goes on a mission trip or some trip, traveling somewhere and comes back with a “gift that keeps on giving.” That’s what they don’t understand,” he said.
Schuyler said there are parts of the Amish population that will allow their children to get vaccinated, but some of the older residents still refuse to do so.
Schuyler said their office has received a limited supply of the monkeypox vaccine. She said they are reaching out to people in high-risk populations to see if they want it. This includes Jamestown Community College and SUNY Fredonia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control website, data show that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men make up the majority of cases in the current monkeypox outbreak. However, anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who has been in close personal contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.
Schuyler said when someone has monkeypox, it can be spread through close contact, bedding, fabrics and towels. “It’s important for people to ask their sexual partners if they have a rash or any symptoms and to be aware of who they are close to,” she said.
There are a number of people in the county who have been tested for monkeypox, but there are no positive cases in the county at this time.
Khan noted that there is currently not enough vaccine for everyone. “I think we’re all holding our breath and hoping that monkeypox doesn’t get out of hand until we have enough vaccine,” he said.
Schuyler noted that there is still a lot of mistrust among certain segments of the population when it comes to the vaccine.
She shared a story about a conversation she had with a man who said he didn’t trust health officials, the government, or what was being reported. “We have a lot of work to do and it’s not just us. It’s going to have to come from health care providers and trusted leaders who really step up to help us stop this.” Schuyler said.