Get Immunized for a Healthy School Year
During the 2021-2022 school year, the Texas Department of State Health Services identified a drop in overall vaccination coverage among kindergarteners
By Jean Yaeger
Children and teens need up-to-date shot records to start the new school year, and the doctors at Cook Children’s are eager to help get students caught up on their routine immunizations.
Alice Phillips, M.D. at Cook Children’s Pediatrics Cityview said vaccines can prevent contagious diseases such as hepatitis, measles and mumps from spreading through the classroom and to family members at home.
“We can look back at history and see stories about polio and whooping cough and the toll that that took on our kids and on our society. We do not want to go back to that,” Dr. Phillips said. “Vaccines are safe. They work. And they are tried and true and proven over many decades.”
But the latest annual immunization report by the Texas Department of State Health Services identified a drop in overall vaccination coverage among kindergarteners during the 2021-2022 school year. The report also cited a high number of seventh-graders behind on shots for meningitis and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis).
In the report, the COVID-19 pandemic was listed as the main reason more children missed out on their required vaccines last year. Additional barriers to immunization include lack of transportation, missed opportunities, lengthy wait, and lack of culturally appropriate educational materials, according to the state health department.
Dr. Phillips pointed out that only 85% of Fort Worth Independent School District kindergarten students were current with their measles shots last school year. To reach herd immunity, and limit transmission, the rate should be 90-95%, she said.
Many families were afraid to come to the pediatrician for their child’s annual checkup during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, Dr. Phillips said. Most of her patients have since received any overdue vaccines.
Heather Miller, M.D. at Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinic Northside also saw a trend of families not making appointments -- or canceling, or not showing up -- for well-child visits because of COVID-19 concerns during the past two years. To make up for the shots they missed, some 6-year-olds are now coming in for vaccines normally given at age 4.
Dr. Miller has good news for children and teens who fell behind: There are combination vaccines that can be given in most cases, meaning “fewer pokes,” as she puts it.
Most of the patients that Dr. Miller and her colleagues see at the Neighborhood Clinic Northside are on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is available to those who can’t afford private health coverage. She wants parents to know that the Texas Vaccines for Children Program provides vaccines to eligible children from birth through age 18.
Dr. Miller says getting back-to-school vaccinations will help protect children from potentially serious complications from those diseases. “That’s why we’re here,” she said, “to help keep children healthy.”
Cook Children’s families can go to the MyCookChildren’s patient portal to schedule an appointment or access the immunization records needed for school registration. Dr. Miller said the staff at the neighborhood clinics can help their families navigate the portal or print out a copy of immunization records.
In addition to the delays the pandemic caused, Dr. Phillips believes vaccine hesitancy also played a role in the 2021-2022 drop in the immunization rate. She invites parents to ask questions and talk to the doctor about any concerns.
“Let me discuss with you what I know – the science, the data – to tell you why these vaccines are safe for your child and why they are effective at preventing illness for not only your child but all of their friends and the community,” said Dr. Phillips, who describes a team partnership of trust between the physician and patient families working together to keep kids healthy.
“I truly believe after 25 years of doing this, that what’s absolutely best for their child is to be fully immunized and protected, because these diseases are still out there,” Dr. Phillips said.
Because many vaccines are typically given in the first 12-18 months of life, an incoming kindergartner might not have received a vaccine since her first birthday. Between the ages of 4-6, these additional vaccines are due:
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis)
- IPV (inactivated poliovirus)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
And an incoming seventh-grader might not have received a vaccine since he was a preschooler. Between the ages of 11-12 years, these additional vaccines are due:
- MCV4 (meningitis)
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)
- HPV (human papillomavirus)
A booster of the meningitis vaccine is also recommended at age 16.
Cook Children’s follows the vaccine schedule adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
For 10 key facts about immunizations, including why it’s important to follow a vaccination schedule, go to Vaccine and Immunization (cookchildrens.org)
To view the recommended ages for shots from birth through the teen years, go to cook-childrens-vaccinefacts2.pdf (cookchildrens.org)
Get to know Alice Phillips, M.D.
Doctor Phillips earned her undergraduate degree from Texas A & M University. After completing medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas, she completed her Pediatric Residency at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. She and her family relocated to Fort Worth in 1996 when she joined Cook Children's Physician Network at the Cityview Office.
With two teenagers, one at home and one in college, life can be hectic but Dr. Phillips has a passion for serving at-need Fort Worth Children. Serving the children of Fort Worth does not end at the end of the work day. She currently serves as the Founding Director for a Big Brother's Big Sisters, Big Hope Student Mentoring program through her church. This program matches at-risk kids at FWISD's Rosemont Elementary School with mentors. She has served as a mentor for one such student at the school for the past 2 years. In addition to this, she supports back-to-school uniform drives and Christmas projects to provide Christmas presents for over 500 FWISD Students.
To continue in her pursuits of helping at-risk children, Dr. Phillips is currently working towards her Masters in Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Meet Heather Miller, M.D.
Dr. Miller’s desire to become a doctor took root as she grew up in the Piney Woods of East Texas. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from the University of Texas at Austin, then attended the University of Texas Medical Branch for medical school and residency. Along the way she proudly served in the U.S. Air Force for three years as a General Medical Officer at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. After fulfilling her military commitment and completing pediatric residency training, she started her career at Cook Children’s Northside Clinic in 2002. Then came a 10-year journey following other career opportunities in San Antonio, Mississippi and New Mexico.
With a happy heart, this native Texan returned to Fort Worth and rejoined the Northside Neighborhood Clinic. Reconnecting with Cook Children’s has been a wonderful homecoming. She feels blessed to have this opportunity to provide care for the children and families of North Texas once again. Her special interests in pediatric care include safety and prevention as well as behavior and development
With her husband Steven and son Andrew, Dr. Miller enjoys exploring the world and taking trips by train.