Every couple of years, The Immunization Partnership embarks on a major project to assess how well Texas is fighting vaccine-preventable disease. Its newly released “State of the State” report is chock full of fascinating and sometimes surprising information, backed by solid data.
There’s one small section that’s particularly eye-grabbing. It shows the number of Texans who were sickened by carious illnesses at their highest point during the 20th century and how many caught those same illnesses in 2015.
Here’s a striking comparison: Polio, 2,778 cases in 1950. In 2015, the number was zero.
In 1958, the state experienced 88,000 cases of measles, a disease that can kill, or cause encephalitis or deafness. In 2015: One case.
Rubella, a disease that can cause severe birth defects in the developing fetuses of pregnant woman, struck 8,408 Texans in 1970. That had been reduced to two cases by 2015.
And on and on the numbers go.
You get the picture. In a world that has benefited from the creation of vaccines, many so-called “childhood” diseases that once killed or caused disabling, lifelong health problems have been vanquished or close to it. The numbers for many diseases in 2015 would be even lower if more Texans were vaccinated.
The vast majority of Texas parents recognize the health-preserving value of vaccines, the report notes:
It is no surprise then that the overwhelming majority of parents choose to vaccinate their kids. More than 96 percent of Texas kindergartens received school-required vaccines during the 2017-2018 school year, and two-thirds of toddlers are up-to-date on most recommended vaccines by age 3 years.
High vaccination rates resulted in a steep drop in once-rampant infections like varicella (chickenpox). While many adults may remember chickenpox as an unpleasant rite of passage, the varicella virus can be dangerous — even deadly. Prior to the release of the vaccine, an estimated 11,000 people were hospitalized every year because of the chickenpox virus, and more than 100 people died annually.
But there are other statistics in the report that are far less reassuring.
Non-medical exemptions from vaccine requirements are 25 times higher than they were in 2003.
And one in six public independent school districts have vaccine rates that are below herd immunity – the level at which so many students are vaccinated that it protects the everyone, including the children who cannot be vaccinated because they have compromised immune systems.
Nine in 10 parents believe that all children should be vaccinated, except of course those who cannot be for valid medical reasons. Yet the number of non-medical exemptions from vaccine rules creep up every year.
In other words, the report reveals a state where the vast majority of residents have a strong understanding of the benefits of vaccines, and have been healthier for it. But there also are disturbing signs of creep in the wrong direction that could quickly undermine the wonderful progress Texans have made.
You can read the full report here.