Did you know that Nevada County has the lowest percentage of fully immunized kindergartners of any county in the state? In 2006 only 73 percent of Nevada County’s entering kindergarteners were immunized compared to 93 percent state-wide – and past years have not been much better. What do we know about the reason for that low percentage?
In Truckee, we know that over 20 percent of children entering kindergarten were admitted on a ‘conditional’ basis. That means that the parents of those kindergartners intend to fully immunize their child, but hadn’t done so by the beginning of school. There are a variety of reasons for this. For example, parents may not have an accurate record of their child’s vaccines or may not have been aware that one shot is often not enough. Unfortunately, too often parents don’t follow through with their intention to complete their child’s immunizations.
Why are these numbers cause for alarm? First, there are children who, because they are lacking all or some immunizations, are not protected from several diseases. Second, by immunizing your children you not only protect them from disease, you also help protect the community from an outbreak of disease…or even worse, an epidemic. Un-immunized persons are protected – indirectly – against some infectious diseases by being surrounded by immunized persons. This is known as ‘community immunity.’ Even people who are vaccinated aren’t always protected, either because their immunity has worn off or the vaccine did not ‘take.’
Community immunity requires a high percentage – 90 percent – of fully immunized people. They act as a kind of ‘firebreak’ in the spread of disease, slowing or preventing the further transmission of the disease to others. As more and more children in the county are not immunized, the risk of losing community immunity increases, which could result in a resurgence of certain diseases.
Today there are few visible reminders of the suffering and premature deaths caused by diseases that are now easily preventable with vaccines. Vaccines are one of medicine’s greatest triumphs. Children can now be protected from 13 diseases. Before vaccines hundreds of thousands of children became ill and hundreds of children died each year in this country, many before age two. Few have ever seen the diseases that were once commonplace. In spite of the success of vaccines, children must still be immunized so diseases such as whooping cough, measles and mumps do not regain a foothold.
Utilizing funding from the Rotary Club, schools in Truckee have begun to contact parents whose children were admitted conditionally, reminding them of the need to complete their child’s immunization schedule. In addition, the Department of Public Health has become part of a regional immunization registry, Shots for Tots, which allows physicians to enter a child’s immunization status (with parental permission) so that better records can be kept.
If you’re a parent who needs assistance in finding out about low-cost immunizations, call the Nevada County Community Clinic, 530-582-7814 – or talk to your child’s pediatrician. First 5 Nevada County has posted information about immunization on its web site, first5nevco.org.
~Cynthia Schuetz, PhD, MPH
Community Health Education Consultant
First 5 Nevada County (writing on behalf of the Immunization Coalition of Nevada County)