Vaccines protect Texas children
Originally published in the Statesman
Vaccines are one of the most important and life-saving medical marvels. For decades, people in this country and almost worldwide haven’t had to worry about outbreaks of polio, measles, chickenpox and other contagious illnesses, thanks to widespread vaccinations.
When kids are vaccinated, there is less concern that they will contract diseases when they go with their friends to the local swimming pool or the playground. Can you imagine being too scared to allow your kids to partake in these summertime rituals?
That is how parents felt in the 1940s and 1950s, when polio was rampant. The reason we stopped seeing these diseases is because of the overwhelming success of vaccines themselves, and not because these diseases don’t exist anymore.
The Immunization Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases through education and advocacy, reports that 45,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students in Texas have a non-medical exemption for school vaccine requirements — a 19-fold increase from 2003. This is especially troubling for children with medical exemptions because they are too ill to be vaccinated and are being exposed to these serious childhood diseases.
Pockets of parents in Texas and other states have become complacent because they don’t regard these diseases as threats to their children, while others don’t believe these diseases exist any longer. And then there are those hesitant about vaccinating their children relying on misinformation derived from unfounded reports of risks or from myths.
“All credible research shows vaccines are safe and effective,’ said Rekha Lakshmanan, director of Advocacy and Policy at the Immunization Partnership. “Yet some parents are basing life-saving decisions on what they encounter from unreliable sources instead of seeking science-based information.”
A growing trend among some folks is the belief that viruses, like measles, are a normal childhood disease that no one should fear. However, Jan Pelosi, immunization program manager with the Williamson County and Cities Health District, said, “Complications from measles include pneumonia, hearing deficits and encephalitis (brain swelling) that can result in death.”
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control reported a large, multi-state measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in California. Medical experts believe the outbreak likely started from a traveler who became infected overseas with measles, then visited the amusement park while infectious. According to the CDC, a total of 147 people contracted measles from this one person, and at least 84 had to be hospitalized.
Minnesota is currently experiencing a large measles outbreak among unvaccinated children. While this state is far from Texas, anyone can travel to and from Minnesota easily, bringing the disease to other parts of the country. Current reports estimate that nine out of 10 non-immunized people exposed to measles will contract the disease.
The MMR vaccine protects against measles (rubeola), rubella (German measles) and mumps. According to the CDC, rubella is dangerous for both a mother and her baby. Although rubella was declared eliminated from the United States in 2004, cases can occur when unvaccinated people are exposed to infected people.
Infection with the rubella virus causes the most severe damage when the mother is infected early in pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks. Since 2012, six cases of babies with Congenital Rubella Syndrome have been reported in the United States. It is recommended that all unvaccinated women who plan to become pregnant discuss the rubella vaccine with their physicians.
Another medical protection for young people against several cancers that can develop later in life is the human papillomavirus vaccine. HPV is a very common virus responsible for 10,500 cases of HPV-related cancers in Texas and roughly 2,900 deaths nationwide from 2009-2013 among men and women.
HPV has already cost Texas $170 million and the nation $8 billion. According to the National Cancer Institute, virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and about 70 percent of oropharyngeal (middle throat area, including the tongue, soft palate and tonsils) are cancers caused by HPV. The CDC recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine for adolescents before becoming exposed to the virus, preferably starting at 11 years of age.
In 2016, I attended an HPV seminar at the Texas A&M Health Sciences Center in Round Rock, and it totally changed my misconceptions concerning HPV and the vaccine program. I became convinced that we can stop many cancers by vaccinating our younger generations with a simple and safe vaccine now.
The HPV vaccine is readily available at most doctors’ offices and covered by most insurance providers. For now, the Affordable Care Act requires health plans to provide vaccines, including for HPV, to children from birth to age 18, at no additional costs beyond normal health insurance premiums and co-pays.
Having enough or any health insurance is a concern for many. Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured or underinsured children. However, insurance status should not be a deterrent to getting your child vaccinated.
A program called the Texas Vaccines for Children, administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, provides low-cost or no-cost vaccines to children who are uninsured or underinsured.
Vaccinating your children is an important and serious decision to make, and I understand how daunting that can be, especially when conflicting information is all around us. I especially feel for those parents who are terrified to send their kids to school, church or any place where children gather because they’re too young or ill to be vaccinated and must rely on high community vaccination rates to protect them.
Fortunately, there is overwhelmingly credible and scientifically rigorous research about vaccines that reinforces their safety and effectiveness. You can contact the Immunization Partnership at immunizeusa.org for more information about vaccine safety.
As we slowly start thinking about kids going back to school, the following community immunity principle is a sound practice to follow: To protect our community by creating a safety net against these diseases, especially for those who are too young or medically fragile, we must ensure all other children are protected from these diseases through vaccines.
To see if your child qualifies for the Texas Vaccines for Children, visit the DSHS website at dshs.texas.gov/immunize/tvfc/ or call 800-252-9152.
For locations, phone numbers and hours of the Williamson County and Cities Health District clinics located in Round Rock, Cedar Park, Taylor and Georgetown, visit wcchd.org/location_and_hours/index.php.