CHAMPAIGN — From Champaign-Urbana Public Health District employee Brandon Meline’s point of view, the measles cases that hit the area earlier this year were essentially the outbreak that wasn’t.
“The fact that it didn’t spread like wildfire meant we’re a well-vaccinated community,” he said.
Immunization data compiled each year by the Illinois State Board of Education supports that claim, with most Champaign-Urbana schools having compliance rates above 95 percent.
The lowest rate among local schools for the 2017-18 academic year was Champaign’s Garden Hills Elementary, with a compliance rate of 89.9 percent.
Experts say a rate in the 93-to-95-percent range typically ensures “herd immunity” — the term given to a community that’s able to protect those who are not immune — so Garden Hills’ numbers were a concern.
Add the fact that districts are legally obligated to remove students from school if they don’t meet vaccine requirements by the state’s final deadline, and that compounds the need to ensure all students are in compliance well in advance.
When asked about changes to the district’s communication methods on immunization requirements and deadlines, Unit 4 communications director David Brauder pointed to a list of methods: flyers, postcards, website postings, emails and phone reminders.
But a new method of outreach also started last year, with the launch of Carle’s Mobile Health Clinic.
For the health care provider, the goal was to do neighborhood-based outreach in communities that need it most, including those that aren’t near a health provider or where people would benefit from services coming to them instead of vice-versa.
“Garden Hills is one of the locations where we could really, hopefully, make a healthier community by coming out to people’s doorsteps,” said Carle nurse Kelly Parker.
The clinic isn’t designed to be a moving vaccine dispenser — even though it does offer that service. Rather, it’s meant to serve an array of needs, from screening for chronic illness to handling back-to-school provisions like physicals and shots.
It’s staffed with a minimum of three people, Parker said — a location services representative to do scheduling, nursing staff and a primary care provider.
“I think a lot of people thought we were just a back-to-school bus or an immunization bus,” Parker said. “We’re providing treatment on a lot of different areas. We are trying to diversify the services we offer to our patients.”
Still, school immunization and physical requirements remain a large draw of the mobile clinic — and that’s part of the reason Unit 4 partnered with it. As a Vaccines For Children-certified clinic, it can offer immunizations free of charge through the federal program — a sort of mobile counterpart to the same program at the health district’s Kenyon Road location.
Regarding increased outreach methods, representatives from Carle and the Champaign school district pointed to a more “robust” appearance schedule of the clinic over the summer, including added locations like a recent Friday appearance at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy.
It didn’t draw much of a crowd, but Parker knows it will pick up as the school year draws closer. The goal is to get families more involved earlier in the summer, she added.
“I know we are going to get a lot busier in late July and early August,” Parker said. “We are trying to make sure kids stay in school, whether it’s physicals or immunizations that they need.”
One of the busiest days might come on Aug. 2, Unit 4 elementary registration day, when the district will offer families the chance to shuttle over to the mobile clinic, which will be parked outside Centennial High School. The list of schools where that service will be offered includes Garden Hills, Booker T. Washington, Stratton Academy of the Arts, International Prep Academy and Dr. Howard and Robeson elementaries.