As my colleague Dr. Wenly Ruan mentioned in her post entitled “Vaccinate All Children Act of 2015,” vaccines have been protecting us from deadly infections such as diphtheria, hepatitis A, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, polio, and more since their creation. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics listed vaccines as one of the greatest achievements in pediatric research. Despite its benefits, there are still an unbelievable number of children who are not vaccinated in the United States, and it is our job as pediatricians to advocate for childhood vaccinations in our community.
According to the CDC, the median state vaccination coverage for 2 doses of MMR among kindergarteners during the 2014-2015 school year was only 94%. Ideally, this number would be closer to 100%. However, parents often make misinformed decisions when refusing vaccines for their children. This misinformation can stem from persuasive dialogue in the media, faulty scientific claims, and more.
In Texas, parents can choose to not vaccinate their children for both medical reasons and reasons of conscience, which includes religious beliefs, without affecting school enrollment. Some have argued that these exceptions have contributed to the significant drop in vaccination rates in Texas. In 2013, 72.5% of children aged 19 to 35 months in Texas had received their required vaccinations on time compared to only 64% in 2014. In March 2015, more than 38,000 children in Texas had non-medical exemptions to required school vaccines.
In contrast, states such as Mississippi and West Virginia have not offered non-medical exemptions for over 30 years. Interestingly, these two states have the highest rate and fourth highest rate of vaccination coverage among kindergarteners respectively. In addition, despite attempts to overturn this rule, it has remained legally intact proving that it is possible to limit vaccine exemptions to medical reasons nationwide.
Currently, a bill entitled “Vaccinate All Children Act of 2015” is pending with the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. This bill promotes stricter state policies on vaccination requirements for public schools in order to be eligible for preventive health service program grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The bill has been before the committee since last year. Several Texas Representatives serve on this committee and could influence the outcome of this bill. Therefore, we should write to our representatives to help them understand the importance of passing this bill. In this way, we can help improve the health of our community and protect our vulnerable population of children from preventable diseases.
– Amee Patel, MD
Colgrove, J., & Lowin, A. (2016). A Tale Of Two States: Mississippi, West Virginia, And Exemptions To Compulsory School Vaccination Laws. Health Affairs, 35(2), 348-355.