Globetrotters in Sedgwick County may once again be able to get the shots they need for world travel at the Sedgwick County Health Department.
Sedgwick County commissioners will vote Wednesday on whether to restore a program that provides vaccines for diseases like typhoid and yellow fever that are recommended for travel to some countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The service ended Dec. 31 after commissioners cut it in the 2017 budget. County officials said the immunizations were available at clinics in the private sector.
County Preventive Health director Preston Goering said the program stretched back at least 30 years.
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If it is restored, the travel immunizations program would provide vaccines for typhoid fever in shot and pill form, plus yellow fever and rabies pre-exposure vaccines, although the rabies shots aren’t necessarily for travel.
Goering said the program also includes a travel immune serum globulin. It’s an immune booster and not technically a vaccine.
The health department provided about 1,121 immunizations in 2016. The two typhoid fever immunizations topped the list. Yellow fever vaccine shots took a hit last year because the manufacturer wasn’t producing as many.
“Except for Reno County, pretty much every county surrounding Sedgwick County does not offer (travel immunizations),” Goering said. “They refer to us.”
‘No longer a necessity’
Dave Unruh, the commission’s chairman for 2017, has pushed the county to reconsider the issue, citing constituents concerned about not being able to get the shots they need for international travel.
But Commissioners Jim Howell and Richard Ranzau say residents have other options.
Ranzau and Howell said a specific anecdote cited by Unruh about a resident going to Reno County for a vaccine was not based on the program ending.
“We’re only a month into this,” Ranzau added. “I think we should give it a chance.”
Howell said the county health department was once the only place for travel immunizations, but now clinics and pharmacies had “stepped up.”
“The private sector is eager to take this over. It’s no longer a necessity,” Howell said. “These immunizations will be available in the private sector at nearly the same cost.”
Howell said he viewed the travel immunizations program as an inherently different government function than providing flu vaccinations, particularly at a free or reduced cost.
“The flu is a prevalent disease in our community,” Howell said. “This particular population is making a choice to buy an airline ticket. … Traveling overseas is a choice.”
Howell brought in representatives from Dillons clinics to talk at a recent county staff meeting. He said the county shouldn’t try to compete with private clinics if they can fill the role the county once played.
The program cost the county $21,891 in 2015, including staff time. Without staff time, the cost is nearly offset by payments for the immunizations.
The government should be doing the things that the private sector has difficulty doing. … The private sector is eager to take this over.
Jim Howell, Sedgwick County commissioner
“It’s almost a wash in terms of dollars. That’s not the point,” Howell said. “The government should be doing the things that the private sector has difficulty doing.”
‘Shouldn’t be controversial’
Sedgwick County’s new commissioners, David Dennis and Michael O’Donnell, may be enough to flip last year’s decision.
Dennis said he doesn’t think the health department is in competition with private-sector clinics.
“The private sector can give flu shots, and our health department gives those, too,” Dennis said. “Our health department’s job is to take care of our entire county.”
Our health department’s job is to take care of our entire county.
David Dennis, Sedgwick County commissioner
Dennis said travel immunizations will be valuable to residents who may go on mission trips with their churches.
“The people that go over on mission trips are saving up their money to do this because it’s something they believe is right,” Dennis said. “It’s not that they’re rich; it’s a calling that they’re wanting to go over and serve.”
O’Donnell said immunizations are already an important function of the health department.
“Aside from being a county commission, we’re also the Sedgwick County board of health,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said he didn’t think it would be a big deal to begin offering the immunizations again.
“It shouldn’t be controversial to provide travel immunizations at the health department when we offer a variety of immunizations already,” O’Donnell said.