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Championing children's health: Arnold receives honor for immunization efforts

Dr. Christine Arnold, a pediatrician at Sanford Health in Mitchell, has been named a Childhood Immunization Champion by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Matt Gade / Republic)

When a parent or patient walks into Dr. Christine Arnold's pediatric office building at Sanford Health in Mitchell, it doesn't take long to find out one of her top priorities.

All three of the staff at the front desk were wearing T-shirts that said, "Do not wait. Vaccinate."

And when talking to the nurses or the doctor herself, their passion of trying to keep children healthy is obvious.

It's thus no wonder Arnold was named one of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2018 "Child Immunization Champions."

One doctor is selected for the award each year from each state for going "above and beyond to promote immunizations among children in their communities."

The immunization rate among her patients has been above 90 percent for years, putting her in the elite group across the nation.

Arnold, who grew up in Spokane, Wash., and went to the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle, did her residency in Austin and Houston, Texas, where she said she first developed her philosophy about the importance of immunizations.

In her time there, she saw many immigrant families who were begging to get their children immunized.

"That's because they saw firsthand the deadly childhood diseases," she said.

The doctor hopes the day never comes when those diseases start spreading again in the United States, although she fears that the number of non-immunized children is growing, especially on the coasts, and that troubles may lie ahead.

"I hope it never gets to the Midwest," she said.

Her philosophy with her patients, she said, is that she listens to them. Beyond that, she gives "all the credit" to her group of nurses who go the extra mile to help give the shots, even if it takes more time and more energy.

She said they often "tag team" the immunizations, which involves giving two shots at once to eliminate the "pokes" that many small children fear.

When she talks with parents, she said can often find "middle ground" as they will sometimes talk about their fears about immunizations.

At the top of the list is the totally untrue fear that the shots — notably the mumps, measles and rubella immunization — cause autism.

"That was a French scientist who only saw it in three patients," she said.

However, she said that "fake news" has affected an entire generation.

Arnold said she can tell if a child is going to have autism through a screening at nine months and the shot can be given after that time.

The other two main fears or concerns she hears is that the vaccines contain mercury or were developed from stem cell research, which some oppose.

The doctor will tell her parents that all of the vaccines given there are mercury-free. She realizes some previously had mercury, but she figured if some parents feared it, why should any of her children be exposed to it.

As for stem cell research, she will visit with the parents with those concerns about the list of vaccines available that aren't tied to such research. Many of those vaccines that date back years were given to the parents of today and have no ties to that research, she said.

Once the nervousness disappears with the parents, Arnold, the mother of three herself, said the next step is working on keeping shots up-to-date with the children.

"Maybe in some big cities that's hard to do," she said.

However, she urges parents not to wait with the shots and also is a big supporter of a baby wellness check from head to toe when they come in, even if a child is sick.

It can all take time and patience, but her philosophy and that of her staff is that it will all pay off in the end.

And if they haven't been to the office in awhile, Arnold creates opportunities by sending reminder letters to parents about the need for those well-child visits before each new school year.