A shot in the arm is better than an apple a day

What’s better than an apple a day to keep the doctor away? A shot—whether you’re a kid or an adult.

That was the message put out by the Kitsap Public Health District at its board meeting Sept. 5.

Dr. Gib Morrow, the district’s health officer, said a new round of COVID vaccinations likely will be approved soon, and none too early as far as he is concerned. “There has been a lot of absenteeism at the health district” due to COVID, he said. People should get a flu shot, along with a COVID one. “It’s time for people to get immunized” to avoid respiratory problems, he said.

Morrow also said with schools starting back up they, along with parents, need to make sure students are up to date with their shots, including ones for smallpox and measles. “We don’t want a measles outbreak. That’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said, adding that 30% of kids end up in hospitals. “Those vaccines are amazing,” he said. “They last forever.”

Morrow said childhood vaccinations “took a big hit during COVID, and misinformation was a big part of that. It’s never recovered.” He said it’s important for schools to get immunization records into the state database so “we can hone in on those places that are under-vaccinated.”

In general, Morrow said vaccinations are amazing. “They can prevent cancer,” he said, referring to the HPV shot.

The health officer also wanted to address a concern out of King County regarding fentanyl residue being found on many buses.

“We don’t know if that’s on Kitsap buses,” but Morrow said Kitsap Transit did a great job with health and safety precautions during COVID. He said such residue “literally can be anywhere,” and the risk is small. “We had zero cases of anybody getting sick from fentanyl” that way. “It’s not a significant threat. Please be reassured you can take public transit.” He said he’s more worried about people finding a fentanyl pill and ingesting it.

Morrow pointed out it’s important for people to take public transit. “They are helping to save the planet for one thing,” he said. “Climate change is the biggest health challenge of our era. People who travel and drive on those (buses) are essential workers who got clobbered during COVID.”

Health forum

Adrienne Hampton, a policy, planning and innovation analyst, provided a summary of the recent Kitsap Maternal and Infant Health Forum.

She talked about shortages in the county. When it comes to OB/GYN care, Kitsap’s numbers are dropping and now are at eight providers for every 100,000 people. Statewide, numbers are increasing and are at 15 providers for every 100,000. When it comes to adequate prenatal care, Kitsap was at 52%, compared with 70% statewide. Also, one in four births of Kitsap residents took place outside the county. As for pregnancy-related deaths, 80% were preventable, with American Indian/Alaska Native having the highest percentage.

Goals for the future include: strengthen clinic care; prevent violence; undo racism and bias; address mental health and drug abuse; and enhance health care quality and access. Recommendations include: collaboration with workgroups; holistic care; home visits; education; and workforce and recruitment issues. Next steps include: working internally with the district’s new health educator, talking with the community and working with lawmakers in the upcoming session.

Upon hearing that it’s tough to attract obstetricians to the county because it’s hard for them to make ends meet, Bainbridge Island City Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said she was disappointed that it could be quite sometime before that gap in service improves.

Hampton added the district has many programs that can help in the Parent-Child Health and Nurse Family Partnership Program, including: child and youth with special care needs; lactation resources; childcare consultation; community health worker support; Work First assessment; Mama Moves Kitsap; and more.

Morrow had opened the meeting by saying the district needs to do a better job with “pregnant moms and their babies and the health care workforce to take care of them.” He also said health districts need to learn to work with varying laws throughout the nation, especially with U.S. Supreme Court changes in Roe v. Wade. He said one study shows 9,800 unwanted babies were born in Texas as a result.

Morrow also said any pediatric deaths are too many, and that “warrants a full-court press in regard to health literacy.” He said all doctors need to meet folks where they are. He said he is encouraged because some local medical organizations are expanding not only into housing for patients but also for staff. “Health care are front-line workers who are generally just scraping by” some having to work two jobs and even sleeping in cars, he said. “Policymakers need to invest in resources” for them.

In other news

Board member Drayton Jackson gave a report from the National Association of Local Boards of Health Conference.

He said the board needs to be more proactive in telling lawmakers “what we need and not wait for them to bring things” to us. He said they need to use their individual positions of power in the community to put funds where they are most needed. In a breakout session, he said health boards are under attack with misinformation. He said again that they need to be more proactive in getting the truth about public health out to the community. “We aren’t just another department in the city. We can destroy a community or make a community,” he said.

Jackson said communication is key—that the public must know “what we’re trying to do.” He said the board must stand together. “We all have to have the same information.” Without naming names, he said a couple of health boards across the nation are “just off the radar—not believing any information” from health experts. “That says a lot.”

Meanwhile, district administrator Keith Grellner, among others, welcomed new County Commissioner Christine Rolfes to the KPHD board. He mentioned she also served with them almost 20 years ago. He thanked her for helping public health receive funding as a state senator the past few years.