Most Important School Supply of the Year: Vaccines
Experts make case for immunization
As a new school year begins, so do the arguments about vaccinations.
Texas Department of State Health Services, which receives the information from schools of students who have declined vaccination says, “Maintaining adequate immunization rates in schools is critical to preventing disease outbreaks and ensuring the health of Texas children.”
Jason Terk, a Cook Children’s pediatrician and former president of the Texas Pediatrics Society, states that “immunizations are the safest, easiest ways to protect your kids from unnecessary and sometimes, fatal, childhood diseases.”
And yet, last year the number of conscientious exemptions in the state of Texas rose to 52,756 last year, compared to 44,716 the previous school year.
These numbers occur as more and more cases of diseases once thought to be wiped out have returned. Last year, mump outbreaks occurred in Johnson County, Texas. Almost 30 people, mainly children, were identified and health officials traced the virus to an outbreak in Arkansas, where several students from Keene, Texas visited.
In 2017, more than 300 mumps cases have been identified in the state. In April of this year, the Texas Department of State Health Services investigated multiple outbreaks of mumps, calling the recent resurgence the highest incidence of the virus in 22 years.
"At first glance it may not seem that concerning. If you look at an individual school or district, the percentage of vaccinated children in those districts is still really high," said Justin Smith. M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician. “My bigger concern, and what keeps me up at night, is in the schools where unvaccinated children, for some reason, are clustered together.”
Dr. Smith said private schools, for example, have a high likelihood of having people go overseas for mission trips or other opportunities. Traveling to countries where diseases are more common increases the likelihood of bringing a disease back to school. Waiting at school are their unvaccinated friends and their vaccinated friends who could even be at risk as the number of cases rise. Outbreaks are possible.
“I suspect that is true across our area as well, but I also suspect that there is clustering according to other factors as well: socioeconomic status, church/religious affiliation, etc. Populations where there are multiple families who choose not to vaccinate would be particularly susceptible in an outbreak situation," Dr. Smith said. "Let’s pray we don’t get there.”
Keeping vaccination rates relatively high (somewhere around 90 percent) actually helps protect all children (vaccinated or not) from diseases, Dr. Smith said. In addition, when outbreaks occur, even children who are vaccinated become at risk for contracting disease due to the number of possible exposures.
What can you do?
- Get the best start to protection by vaccinating your child.
- Be aware of the vaccination percentages of your child’s school, your church and your social community.
- Be especially cautious when your child’s unvaccinated friends return from overseas travel. If they are sick, stay away.