UNICEF and the World Health Organization recently issued a sobering report that revealed the percentage of children worldwide who received routine wellness vaccinations experienced the greatest decline in three decades. This dangerous trend extends to Texas - and it is threatening the remarkable progress our state has made to protect our children from preventable disease.
In Texas, routine wellness vaccination rates in children and teens have fallen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Understandably, issues related to the pandemic, such as decreased access to health care offices during the lockdown, presented obstacles. But the percent of Texas seventh graders who received their pertussis (whooping cough) and meningitis vaccinations for the 2021-22 school year decreased by more than 5%, compared to the last school year prior to the pandemic. Tdap vaccinations, basic vaccinations that protect Texas kindergarteners against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, are down by 3%. We’ve also seen a 3% drop in measles and mumps vaccinations, and just under 3% decline in polio vaccinations also among children starting kindergarten.
At first glance, 3% and 5% may not sound like big numbers. But considering that there are currently over 5 million students enrolled in public schools in Texas, those few percentage points represent dramatic impact.
Misinformation about vaccines is everywhere. It is understandable that many parents are confused. But parents need the facts about the power of vaccines to protect their kids.
Wellness vaccines have a long, proven track record that reassures parents and caregivers. Today, outbreaks of measles, meningitis, and pertussis occur so much more infrequently because of wellness vaccines, including “Back to School” vaccines. Parents and caregivers are the key to reversing the current trend - and they can do so by taking children for their routine childhood vaccinations.
As our students prepare for a return to school, we have an opportunity to reverse the trend and get back on track. Routine vaccination prevents lethal illness and saves lives.
The best way to keep our kids “Texas Tough” is to keep them healthy. The best way to keep kids in school and on track to learn is to keep them healthy - mentally and physically. The good news is that we’ve got a way to do that. Yes, we face pandemic fatigue and the challenges that accompany it. We are constantly bombarded with politically charged misinformation about vaccines, but the statistics regarding our children’s falling vaccination rates are sobering. If we’re not vigilant, a disturbing trend may be on its way to a school near you.
Terri Burke is the executive director of The Immunization Partnership, a statewide non-profit organization with the mission to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases by educating the community, advocating for evidence-based public policy, and supporting immunization best practices.