- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

PARKSTON, S.D. (AP) - A nurse from southeastern South Dakota who has helped vaccinate hundreds of Hutterite children in various colonies has been honored by the country’s highest disease prevention agency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named Kerri Lutjens as a 2015 Childhood Immunization Champion. Lutjens, who works as a visiting nurse for Avera St. Benedict Hospital in Parkston, provides services to seven Hutterite colonies in the region, the Yankton Press and Dakota reported (http://bit.ly/1IW5l3w ).

The Hutterites are Protestants similar to the Amish and Mennonites who live a life centered on their religion. But unlike the others, Hutterites live in German-speaking communes scattered across northern U.S. states and Canada. They are primarily agricultural producers.

Before Lutjens started working with Hutterite communities four years ago, 87 percent of children in the seven colonies had never been vaccinated or were not up to date on their vaccinations.

Since implementing the visiting nurse program, Lutjens has administered more than 600 childhood vaccinations and has brought the vaccination rate in the colonies to more than 90 percent.

In some Hutterite colonies, women are not permitted to drive. And, as the primary caregivers, that can be one of the biggest barriers to immunization since they usually can’t get their children to the clinic, Lutjens said.

The CDC annually recognizes individuals making outstanding efforts to ensure children in their communities are fully immunized before age 2 against 14 preventable diseases.

In giving her the award, the CDC noted Lutjens carried out the vaccination efforts in a culturally sensitive manner.

“The language is their biggest barrier,” Lutjens said. “While they all speak English, German is their first language and many of their words do not translate. That’s where I come in. I’ll make the call to the doctor and explain what’s going on.”

Lutjens performs bi-weekly nursing visits and a monthly mobile clinic day, where the hospital can provide on-site clinical care. She also sends monthly reminders to parents to let them know their kids are due for vaccinations.

“(The Hutterites) are an amazing group of people to work with,” she said. “I truly love what I do, and I couldn’t do it without the help of everyone at Avera St. Benedict.”

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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