The beginning of the new school year means parents need to check and see if their young scholars are up to date with their immunizations. In all 50 states children entering kindergarten must have certain vaccines. Some states require as few as four, while one, Connecticut, says they must have nine. Here in Florida, the number is five.
“In general, if the child is current with their shots, they get a booster for Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis, they get a booster for Polio, and they get a booster for measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox," said Lee Willoughby, the immunization supervisor for the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County. That’s in addition to the required hepatitis B vaccine babies get by the time they are 6 months old.
The immunizations are available from most primary-care doctors. The Department of Health is also there for low-income families who may need some help. “In (Escambia) county we have several providers that do income based visits. But here at the health department, for immunizations, you don’t have to see a doctor. We have a nurse-run clinic that provides vaccinations to children under age 19 free of charge. And we provide the paperwork for school and give them the shots for no charge.”
Once a student reaches middle school age, it’s time for another short round of boosters. “There are some school-required vaccines that happen at that time period between 11 and 13. And the one that’s required by the School District is the TdaP, which is the booster for Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis. That’s the main one we focus on at that time”.
Over the past few years there have been outbreaks around the country of measles and other vaccine preventable diseases as many younger parents are using loopholes to opt their children out of getting vaccinated. Some say they fear vaccines can cause autism, a claim that has been proven false time and time again. There’s another factor that could be causing many parents to question vaccinating their children, according to Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“I think vaccines become somewhat less compelling in that we don’t see the diseases that vaccines prevent. In some ways they are a victim of their own success. But if we lower our guard, these diseases will come back. And you probably have no better example that what is going on now with measles epidemics.”
Locally, the vaccine rates are right around or slightly lower than 95%. That’s the level health officials say is needed to maintain the so-called herd immunity that protects people who are unable to be vaccinated. Lee Willoughby says that with outbreaks of measles around the country and hepatitis A around the state, local health officials have been doing a good job preventing disease. “I think we do a great job of vaccinating the children in the county and taking care of the families that come to us for vaccination,s and so do our providers. So I think we’ve been really, really lucky.”
A report in USA Today says that last year, 42 of Florida’s 67 counties failed to meet that threshold for kindergartners in public and private schools. That’s up from 35 counties the year before.