FRANKFORT — The state of Kentucky has laws requiring immunizations for students in child care and school, but that doesn’t mean there’s full participation. Most recent data shows the immunization rate dropped in 2012.
Kentucky’s deputy commissioner for public health, Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, calls reducing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases “one of the greatest success stories of the 20th century.” In his view, as the world gets smaller, the reasons for vaccinating kids get bigger.
“We live in a global economy where there are links, every day, to other parts of the world,” Humbaugh said. “And there are parts of the world that still have these childhood diseases circulating on a regular basis.”
For example, according to Humbaugh, there’s been a resurgence of measles in the United States. This year, there have already been more than 150 confirmed cases of potentially deadly whooping cough in Kentucky.
In 2011, Kentucky was recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for having a child vaccination rate above 80 percent, well ahead of the national average of 73 percent. Dr. Molly Houser, a fetal medicine specialist with Kosair Children’s Hospital, calls it “really concerning” that Kentucky’s rate then dropped to just over 68 percent in 2012.
“The reason we have these vaccinations and sort of gotten this attitude of ‘we really don’t need these’ is because the vaccinations are so effective that we really haven’t seen these diseases in a long time,” Houser said.
Some parents don’t immunize children for religious reasons; others because they are worried about potential health problems associated with some vaccines, although those risks are reported to be extremely small.
Dr. Humbaugh says vaccination rates tend to fluctuate in the CDC’s National Immunization Surveys, but the state policy is to make childhood immunization a priority. In addition to work done by local health departments, the Vaccine for Children Program provides free shots to low-income kids. Humbaugh also thinks the state’s health exchange will improve participation.
“We’re hoping that with greater numbers of folks who are insured in Kentucky that our coverage rates will start to go up again and be much higher than the national average,” Humbaugh said. “That’s where we’d like to see them.”