By Lindy McGee, MD
Texas received some startling news last month. Vaccination rates among Texas children aged 19 to 35 months old fell by an alarming 8.5 percent in 2014. This drop in adherence rates is not only concerning to pediatricians such as myself, but should concern every Texas resident. This is a serious wake-up call as these under-protected toddlers head off to kindergarten in the next two years.
The data surfaced in the 2014 National Immunization Survey, the Center for Disease Control’s annual assessment of immunization rates across the country. In 2013, 72.5 percent of children 19 to 35 months old had received their required vaccinations on time; in 2014, only 64 percent of children the same age had adhered to the CDC’s required dosage.
Rates vary by region, but have fallen across the board: Houston adherence sat at 70.4 percent, compared to 77.8 percent in 2013; and in Bexar County, rates fell from 70.6 to 66.4 percent.
What does this mean for Texas? It’s not good news, if outbreaks nationwide are any indication. The measles outbreak earlier this year at Disneyland infected 117 people. And tragically, in July the U.S. saw its first confirmed measles death since 2003, when a young Washington woman died of measles-triggered pneumonia. Physicians across Texas were on alert.
We need to eliminate gaps in our vaccine delivery system, ensure that parents and guardians are well-informed about vaccines, and make known the importance of adhering to the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule. Missed opportunities due to inconsistent utilization of immunization information technology, such as reminder recall systems, contributes to decreased immunization rates. Low Hepatitis A rates are likely pulling down the overall numbers—the vaccine requires two doses, six months apart, making it easy to miss subsequent appointments.
It is everyone’s responsibility—me, my colleagues, our patients’—to make sure these rates don’t continue to decline. We must better explain to parents how the vaccine schedule is structured and why it is important to keep all clinic appointments.We can help parents by following up with appointments and remind to stay on schedule‚especially for multi-dose treatments. It’s not only critically important to start the vaccine series but also to finish the series on time. A child is not fully protected against these deadly diseases until the series is complete.
The stakes are getting higher; lower childhood immunization rates coupled with disease resurgence leaves Texas vulnerable. We must work diligently together to protect Texas from significant consequences to the state’s public health.