News, public health

With the numbers of unvaccinated children on the rise, some pediatricians take a get tough approach

Here’s a startling statistic: North Carolina’s vaccination rate for toddlers has dropped by almost ten percent in the last few years. The data published in a story by North Carolina Health News on Wednesday, comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a record number of measles cases hitting the U.S. this year.

Here’s more from reporter Sarah Ovaska-Few’s story:

Some pediatric practices around the state are sending a strong message to parents and guardians hesitant to vaccinate – immunize or find another doctor.

That’s the tactic that Scott St. Clair and his colleagues at Boone’s Blue Ridge Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine took in early 2015 when announcing the practice would no longer treat patients whose parents and guardians choose not to vaccinate for non-medical reasons.

The decision came after doctors at the Blue Ridge practice treated seven cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, the prior fall. They were concerned that having these sick patients in their waiting rooms put other children, unable to be vaccinated because of age or medical reasons, at great risk, St. Clair said.

Whooping cough, with an effective vaccine against it widely available since the 1940s, can be dangerous or even fatal for newborns who typically don’t get their first dose of immunization until two months of age.

“We felt like we were putting other families at risk,” St. Clair said.

The N.C. Pediatric Society doesn’t keep track of how many practices have adopted policies like that of the Boone clinic. But doctors around the state are looking for ways to make clear the life-saving importance of childhood immunizations, including policies that decline to treat unvaccinated children, said Elizabeth Hudgins, the N.C. Pediatric Society’s executive director.

“Vaccines are one of the greatest accomplishments of modern medicine,” Hudgins said.  “High immunization rates are how we protect communities.”

More skipping the shots

The numbers of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children appear to be rising in the state, with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a concerning drop in overall vaccination rates for very young children.

More than 80 percent of North Carolina’s toddlers were up to date in 2014 on a series of seven vaccines recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, a rate that exceeded national numbers by nine percentage points.

But North Carolina’s coverage rate dropped to 70.9 percent just three years later in 2017, according to the most recent data collected for the CDC’s annual National Immunization Survey of toddlers 19 to 35 months old. The survey is conducted by telephone, with researchers later confirming reports about immunizations with medical providers.

Source: NC Health News

North Carolina is now just slightly above the national average (70.9 percent of North Carolina toddlers versus 70.4 percent nationwide) for the combined seven-series of immunizations. The series of seven vaccines includes protections against diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP); polio; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); hepatitis B; Hib (Haemophilus influenza B, which can cause bacterial meningitis); varicella (commonly known as chickenpox); and pneumococcal diseases (PSV).

The number of children without any vaccines is still small – 1.3 percent of U.S. toddlers born in 2015 – but much higher than it was in 2001, when only 0.3 percent of surveyed children reporting having no vaccines, according to a 2018 report from the CDC.

Zack Moore, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ state epidemiologist and a pediatrician by training, emphasized that the overall numbers of vaccination are high in North Carolina —a sign the majority of children are protected from preventable disease. But he also is concerned about the drop over the last three years.

Statewide numbers can mask a larger problem, he said, with pockets through the state with high numbers of unvaccinated children especially susceptible to outbreaks.

“People don’t get sick statewide, they get sick in their own individual communities,” Moore said.

Read the full story here at NC Health News, and be sure to check out their interactive map of North Carolina that details the county vaccination rates for kindergarteners in 2017-18.

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