Group takes aim at vaccination rates as study shows Texas is No. 49

Immunization in Texas

• Texas ranks No. 49 among states in vaccination rates of children under 3 years old.

• Texas dropped 9 percentage points to 64 percent for overall child vaccination rates.

• More than 40,000 nonmedical exemptions to immunizations for school-age children were filed in Texas in 2013-14.

Source: The Immunization Partnership

Nearly one-third of Texas children ages 19 months to 35 months hadn’t received all their necessary immunizations, data from 2014 show, ranking the state second to last in the nation in vaccination rates of young children.

Texas also saw a drop of about 9 percentage points to a 64 percent vaccination rate for the full series of child vaccinations.

“It’s an alarming drop, and it’s a trend we don’t want to see happen,” Rekha Lakshmanan, director of advocacy and policy for The Immunization Partnership, said of the 2014 numbers gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Immunization Survey.

Travis County also persists in having one of the highest rates of pertussis in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. In 2013, a Travis County baby too young for the pertussis vaccine, given in five doses starting at age 2 months, died of the illness. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes painful coughing fits.

Such statistics have prompted The Immunization Partnership to conduct town hall meetings across the state, including Thursday’s meeting in Austin, which was attended by public health officials and medical personnel, to examine the vaccination data and determine how to improve immunization rates in Texas.

“We are blanketing the state,” said Anna Dragsbaek, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership, a Houston-based nonprofit. “We are going everywhere and talking to everyone because we feel this issue of immunizations couldn’t be more important than it is right now.”

Concerned about vaccine safety or effectiveness, a rising number of parents are seeking exemptions from required school vaccinations, a trend The Immunization Partnership and others who support vaccinations are trying to reverse.

More than 40,000 nonmedical belief exemptions were filed in Texas last year, up from 2,300 in 2003-04. And Central Texas is among the state’s top areas for exemptions from vaccines for personal, moral and religious beliefs. Travis County’s rate is more than double the state average, with more than 2 percent exemptions in 2014-15. The exemptions don’t include waivers given for medical reasons.

“We’re trending upwards, and that’s not a good sign,” Lakshmanan said.

The group emphasized better educating the public about the benefits of vaccinations and promoting a free opt-in registry that keeps track of vaccination histories. They also called on attendees to push for state legislation that makes it more difficult to obtain exemptions and makes public what percentage of the study body at each school is vaccinated (school districts collect the data and report it districtwide, but not by individual campus).

Last year, there was an uncommon mumps outbreak in Austin that involved eight University of Texas students, and originated from a UT student traveling in Mexico who brought the mumps back, where friends and roommates were infected.

Later in the year, pediatricians with Austin Regional Clinic, the largest private clinic system in Austin, stopped seeing children who haven’t been vaccinated, expressing concern about the health of vulnerable patients in their waiting rooms.

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