Politics & Government

Sedgwick County back in business of giving travel immunizations

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It took more than an hour of discussion on Wednesday for the Sedgwick County Commission to approve reinstating funding for travel immunizations.

The program through the Sedgwick County Health Department ended Dec. 31 after commissioners cut it in the 2017 budget, saying the immunizations were available at clinics in the private sector. The health department had provided vaccines for diseases such as typhoid and yellow fever recommended for travel in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The commission voted 3-2 to reinstate funding of $138,143 to provide the immunizations, with Commissioners Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell voting no.

The immunization shots will begin again at the health department within a month.

During the discussion, county resident Marilyn A. Bower said the county should resume offering the immunizations.

“This is going to affect the average person in Sedgwick County, especially going for missions,” she said. “The most pushback I got was from churches and feeling you were letting them down. It is an issue that affects people in Sedgwick County.”

Dean Benton, clinical care director for Dillons, spoke in favor of the private sector, as did John Todd, a local activist and vice president of the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

“I would like to stand up as a citizen and take the position that I don’t believe our county should be competing with the private sector. People who want to voluntarily travel overseas for their own interests really should be buying immunizations from the private sector,” Todd said.

Howell challenged Bower’s mention of church missions and the need for the county to provide immunizations.

“You referenced a large missions trip of about 50 people. I think that would require a lot of planning to make a trip of that magnitude. That is a lot of people,” Howell said. “How much time would you need to make sure everybody had their proper passports, immunizations – how much time would be required?”

Bower said, “The people I was talking about were going different places.”

Howell interrupted and said: “You have been here a number of times and spoke to us. … You made a comment that the churches were not happy. My church has never mentioned to me that they are unhappy to me.”

The exchange continued.

Bower: “I didn’t get to them; I talked with the largest churches I could here in Wichita. I spent close to a month and a half doing research. You all got a report distributed to you. I don’t know if you got that or not. But I recommended that these are wonderful additions to our choices.”

Howell: “I don’t understand the churches’ perspective. What is it that makes them unhappy? The availability is just as good, if not better. Price is just as good. I don’t understand why the churches are not happy – so please articulate why.”

Bower: “I don’t know. … They were concerned. They didn’t feel commissioners were on their side.”

Howell replied: “If my premise is correct, places like Dillons – if the prices are competitive and the churches can get to them – would you be satisfied that is a good solution for our community?”

Bower: “But I don’t believe they are competitive.”

Howell: “I asked the question very clearly.”

Howell later told Bower he respected her passion on the topic.

Commissioner David Dennis said he had received comments from constituents who were upset that the commission had cut the funding.

“I have received phone calls and e-mails. We have already heard we haven’t changed staffing at all,” Dennis said. “A year from now, depending on what is happening, I can see we might want to review this, if we find out our public health department doesn’t need to provide these immunizations and that the private sector has stepped up enough to make sure all our needs are met.”

County Preventive Health director Preston Goering said the program stretched back at least 30 years.

The health department provided about 1,121 immunizations in 2016. Typhoid fever immunizations topped the list.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner