By Sydney Mineer
Since the publication of a now discredited study by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 in The Lancet medical journal that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to Autism, there has been a trend of parents not vaccinating their children or, alternatively, obtaining vaccine exemptions from their state governments.
In 2000, the measles was eradicated from the United States. In 2015, there was an outbreak of the measles at Disney Land in California.
Katrina VandeBunte, a Nurse Practitioner at the Minute Clinic at the CVS Pharmacy in Glover Park, says that the outbreak of the disease should serve as a wake-up call for the medical community.
“I think we need to do better as a medical community coming out with an across-the-board plan to get the right information out there,” VandeBunte said, “because there is no debate within the medical community whether vaccines are safe and effective or not. All of our research indicates that they are very safe— they are some of the safest medicines that we use— and that they’re very effective.”
VandeBunte has been working at the Minute Clinic for a year and a half. She was partially inspired by her parents to become a nurse. Her parents are not doctors as one might think, but social workers.
“I grew up in a family where it was important and valued to give back to your community,” VandeBunte said. “So I always had that element when I was thinking about what I wanted to do as a career that whatever I chose, it was worthwhile to do something that was going to give back to your community.”
Though she started as an English major at Hope College in her native state of Michigan, VandeBunte graduated with a Bachelors in Science and Nursing. After working as a nurse for about seven years, VandeBunte decided to take her desire to give back to the community and got her Masters from George Washington University’s Family Nurse Practitioner Program.
“This is my first job out of Nurse Practitioning School,” VandeBunte said. “During that time at school we got a chance to do a lot of rotations in all kinds of different healthcare… When I got out of school I wanted to work with all ages, and it’s been really rewarding.”
One of the things VandeBunte most enjoys about working at the minute clinic is the amount of time she is able to spend talking with her patients.
“I really enjoy that we get to spend time with our patients,” VandeBunte said. “A big focus of the visit is patient and parent education, and so it is really allowing people to make decisions based on really good, reliable information.”
Of the patients that VandeBunte treats at the minute clinic, 60% are adults and 40% are children. Though most of VandeBunte’s pediatric patients come in for sick visits, vaccinations are quickly becoming the second most frequent service she performs.
“A lot of pediatricians are not stocking vaccines in their office because they’re very expensive,” VandeBunte said. “We are seeing a trend that a lot of the pediatric offices are just referring their patients out with a prescription for what vaccines they need. We’re picking up fast on the amount of vaccines we’re giving kids.”
When it comes to questions about child vaccines, VandeBunte strives to give parents a wealth of information about the safety and effectiveness of immunizations. According to the World Health Organization, the Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide, and between 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths.
“I just try to find out a little bit more — ‘What are your concerns specifically? What do you think is the downside to getting vaccinated?’ and then I slowly try to turn the conversation and say, ‘Do you want to hear what the scientific research says about it?’ and meet both sort of their emotional need to discuss the vaccine as well as address all of the misinformation.”
According to an article by Victoria Lynn Anderson, MSN, in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners last month, there were 592 cases of measles this year, and four college campuses were affected by outbreaks of mumps— the majority of cases occurring in patients who were unvaccinated.
Because we live in a country in which measles was effectively eradicated, VandeBunte thinks the outbreak of the disease should serve as a wake-up call for both parents and medical providers.
“I think that there’s a lot of misinformation. I really feel for my parents who come in who are really hesitant or really scared about vaccines because I think the parents are bombarded with all kinds of information from both sides whether it’s reliable information or not,” VandeBunte said. “I really just try to sit down and figure out where the parents are — what are their specific concerns, what are their specific questions.”
VandeBunte believes that the best way to dispel the assumptions about vaccines and eliminate fear mongering is for the medical community to come together and create a plan to better educate the public about what the vaccines are, how they’re used and how effective they are in preserving the health of our country’s children.
“I think pediatricians are trying not to alienate families,” VandeBunte said, “but I really think that more important than acquiescing to [a parent’s] alternate schedule that is based on sort of the whim and fancy of whatever blog they’re reading, that we need to spend more time with our families actually talking about healthcare and prudent measures and really how safe these vaccines are.”