Non-profit organization is sounding the alarm over falling childhood vaccination rates

The Partnership for Immunization is sounding the alarm as childhood immunization rates stagnate across the state.

Representatives from the nonprofit visited Methodist Health Ministries in South Texas last Wednesday, the third day of National Infant Immunization Week, to speak with community members.

It was the third leg of what the nonprofit calls its “Vaxx Voyage,” an odyssey through eight Texas cities to raise awareness of a sharp reduction in vaccination coverage which threatens to evolve into a real public health crisis.

But it’s not just a health crisis.

Say “kiddo come home (sick),” said Terri Burke, executive director of the Vaccine Partnership. In the best case, “Mom or Dad won’t be able to go to work… If people lose their jobs, they lose income. The economic productivity of the whole society is diminished. So, I mean, the effects are all simply huge.

Sitting around a table in the building’s conference room, doctors, educators, pharmacists, biomedical researchers, disability advocates and other “vaccine actors” listened to Burke and his colleagues warn that medical misinformation is creeping into enabling health policy.

Childhood immunization rates in the Lone Star State, already among the lowest in the nation, have fallen further during the pandemic, with parents and other caretakers avoiding doctor’s offices for fear of exposing their children to virus particles. Even though COVID-19 vaccines are now widely available for children 5 and older, rates have shown no signs of recovering, a trend that has medical professionals worried.

Raising her hand during a listening session, Joyce Turner, a registered nurse and vaccine liaison for Lela Pharmacy on the North Side, said she frequently encounters vaccine hesitancy in her daily work. She said religious faith, skepticism about the existence or severity of COVID-19, and fear of so-called “vaccine injuries,” or medical problems resulting from vaccination, were among the most common reasons. frequently cited for this position.

Vaccine hesitancy is especially pronounced in the San Antonio area. In 2021, only 61.6% of 24-month-old children in Bexar County had received all seven vaccines recommended for their age group, including polio, measles, chickenpox and diphtheria vaccines, according to a statement. Vaccine Partnership press release. The statewide average was 66%, the statement said.

“Nothing should stop us from protecting our children from diseases that can cause serious illness and trigger preventable epidemics,” Burke said.

Several such outbreaks have been documented in recent years, illustrating the risk that vaccine hesitancy poses to both the individual and the wider community.

Schools are a particular hotbed for disease clusters. In 2019, for example, a number of Jewish educational institutions known as yeshivas were linked to hundreds of measles cases in Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, between October and April, which has prompted New York City officials to order their closure.

An educator at the meeting, Donald Schmidt, assistant superintendent of student, family and community services for the Northside Independent School District, said that in his 18 years with the district, he saw his position on vaccine hesitancy weakening as students began to drop out because of the vaccine. warrants, which costs taxpayers money.

“So vaccines, you know, we believe in that, but getting families to do that is another thing,” Schmidt said.

More than 20 of the 285 New Yorkers who had contracted measles as of April 8, 2019 have required hospitalization. Rather than wane, however, anti-vaccine sentiment is only growing, fueled by high-profile Senate bills banning warrants. In October, Governor Greg Abbott even issued an executive order to that effect.

It is no coincidence that the meeting was held in late April, months before the start of the 88th annual Texas legislative session.

“The health of our state could be at risk if misinformation is not checked,” Burke said.

One of her motivations for joining the Partnership for Vaccines six months ago was that she had a 14-year-old granddaughter.

“I don’t want her to go to school with children who are not vaccinated,” she said. “I don’t want her to be endangered.”

caroline.tien@hearst.com

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