Berks alliance stresses importance of vaccines

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The Berks Immunization Coalition will hold its annual event Sunday in Reading for National Immunization Awareness Month.

Reading, PA —

Vaccination is not just a choice parents make to protect children from measles, polio and a host of other diseases.

It’s a choice that protects everyone else, said Tracy Scheirer, chairwoman of the Berks Immunization Coalition.

“There are vulnerable members of society who cannot or are not ready to be vaccinated because of age or pre-existing conditions,” Scheirer said. “They need to be protected.”

It’s been 10 years since the Berks Immunization Coalition came together, and the message in that time has always been resolute, Scheirer said.

“Vaccines are safe and they work,” Scheirer said. “The need for vaccines is greater than ever.”

On Sunday, the immunization coalition is hosting its annual event at FirstEnergy Stadium. The event, sponsored by Redner’s Markets, will feature games, giveaways and plenty of information about the importance of vaccines.

The coalition organizes the day at the ballpark every year in August for National Immunization Awareness Month.

“It’s not an individual choice,” Scheirer said of vaccination. “It becomes a societal choice.”

New school rules

The event is timely as thousands of students prepare to go back to school in Berks.

Last year, new school rules for vaccination debuted across the state.

Previously, students had eight months to get caught up on their vaccines. Last year, that window shrank to just five days, and those who did not get caught up were excluded from attending.

Scheirer said the rules stem from a desire to ensure students are protected.

Nurses across the county took extra precautions to let families know about the rules, Scheirer said.

“They did a phenomenal job of keeping on top of parents,” she said.

Parents can get vaccine exemptions for their children for medical reasons, as well as religious or ethical/philosophical convictions about vaccines.

In 2016-17, there were about 220 exemptions for Berks students in kindergarten and seventh grade in Berks, according to Health Department statistics.

Scheirer said some students with medical conditions will not be able to get vaccinated, but there should not be much room for others to opt out.

“I think people believe it’s an individual decision,” she said. “It’s my right to decide that for my child. I do understand whether you want to feed your child one type of food versus another, but vaccination is a societal contract that we have.”


Scheirer said she places a special emphasis on making sure teens get the meningococcal and human papillomavirus vaccines.

“Teens fall through the cracks,” she said. “Once they get to their teenage years, it’s not necessarily the annual visits or monthly visits they had when they were infants.”

If everyone got the HPV vaccine at the recommended age of 11 or 12, it could go a long way toward prevention, she said. About 32,500 people are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of those cancer cases could be prevented if people received the vaccine at the recommended age, Scheirer said.

“We’re seeing it a lot more in younger people who are getting HPV-associated throat ad neck cancer because of HPV strains,” she said.

She said there’s a misconception that getting the vaccine might encourage some teens to have sex, but there’s no evidence linking the two.

“We really have to promote that it’s not about sex,” she said. “It’s about cancer prevention.”

Victim of success

Keeping vaccination rates high protects everyone, Scheirer said.

Scheirer thinks about older patients who can have a tough time battling the flu virus along with their other conditions.

For the general population, getting a flu shot is an easy thing to do, she said. It does not provide complete protection against the virus, but it does help.

During flu season, some people will carry the virus without ever showing symptoms. Those people can pass the virus on to someone who can’t fight it off, and that can be fatal. Between 120 to 2,000 will die of complications from the virus in Pennsylvania, the Health Department estimates.

“If you don’t understand how it all works, it doesn’t bring home that same message,” she said.

Scheirer said she knows there are some people who are vaccine skeptics or even “anti-vaxxers.” She said she sticks to the research and the facts, but that does not stop people from becoming more deeply entrenched in their positions.

“Vaccination is a victim of its own success because of primary prevention,” she said. “When primary prevention works, nothing happens. People are lulled into a false sense of security.”

Vaccine can have side effects, such as mild fever, body aches and fatigue. Still, they have saved millions of lives over the years, Scheirer said.

“Nothing is infallible,” she said. “There are things that can happen and do happen but we need to be cognizant of the facts that we know. Millions and millions benefit from it.”

About the Berks Immunization Coalition

Coverage area: Berks County

Mission: To provide leadership and education in promoting age-appropriate immunization across the lifespan for all residents of Berks County.

Description: A coalition composed of local physicians, nurse practitioners, school nurses, immunization coordinators, immunization advocates and pharmaceutical representatives

Objectives: Promote and ensure access to immunizations through the lifespan; encourage continuity of immunization through a medical home; educate the community and the providers; endorse 2010 Healthy People National Objectives for immunizations.

Email: [email protected]

If you go

What: Berks Immunization Coalition at Reading Fightin Phils

When: Sunday, 3 to 6 p.m.

Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, 1900 Centre Ave.

Source: Berks Immunization Coalition


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