Texas, we can do better. We must. A recent study identified four of the state’s metropolitan areas as national hot spots of low vaccination: Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and Plano. In these areas, the number of parents who file for non-medical exemptions from the state’s vaccination rules are especially high. In fact, Texas had more of these hot spots than any other state.
What this means is that even though rates of childhood vaccination– the immunizations that children are supposed to receive before entering kindergarten – are relatively high throughout the state, children in these four areas could be at increased risk of catching measles, mumps, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable disease.
“The high numbers of [non-medical exemptions] in these densely populated urban centers suggest that outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases could either originate from or spread rapidly throughout these populations of unimmunized, unprotected children,” said the study, published in the online journal PLOS Medicine in June. “The fact that the largest count of vaccine-exempt pediatric populations originate in large cities with busy international airports may further contribute to this risk.”
And the numbers statewide are worsening at a worrisome clip. Fewer than 3,000 children were unvaccinated in 2003; now that number has grown to 45,000.
National Immunization Awareness Month, which Is observed each August, begins in just a couple of days. This is a good time to remember that the state has suffered outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough during the past year and a half. All of these diseases can be serious; all are vaccine-preventable.
This is also the time of year, as you prepare for the next school year, for pulling out your child’s immunization record and comparing it with the schedule of vaccines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection. You can find the schedules on our website under “Parent Resources.” Don’t delay making a doctor’s appointment if your child is missing any of the vaccines required at various ages; many schools start the academic year in August and pediatricians will have packed schedules.
This is about more than protecting your own children. Vaccination is a vital step toward neighborliness and community concern. Even very effective vaccines don’t protect 100 percent of the children who get them. And remember that other children might have medical reasons why they can’t be vaccinated, such as an impaired immune system. Those are often medically fragile children for whom a vaccine-preventable disease might be especially dangerous, and yet the state doesn’t even publish the vaccine exemption rates for individual public schools. These children depend on high community vaccination rates to protect them from potentially serious illness.
Children who have been exposed to illness also can take it home and expose vulnerable family members. Whooping cough can be deadly for babies, who haven’t received all the vaccinations yet to be protected.
There’s a reason for the term “community immunity.” Protection from vaccine-preventable diseases isn’t just an individual decision; it’s a community effort. What does supporting your neighborhood, your town and your local schools mean to you? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves as the school year approaches during National Immunization Awareness Month.
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