Texas kindergarten students have slightly lower immunization coverage than in previous years, according to a report released by the Texas Health and Human Services Department.
The department released the 2017-2018 Annual Report of Immunization Status, a self-reported survey of 1,203 Texas school districts and 1,058 private schools that is used to measure immunization coverage among kindergarten and 7th grade students across the state. Children attending home schools are not covered in the report.
Students attending school in Texas are required to be vaccinated against Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis (DTaP/Tdap), Hepatitis A/B, MCV4, MMR, Polio and Varicella (Chickenpox), though state law allows immunization exemptions in two cases. Doctors can write medical exemptions for students whose condition could be harmed by vaccines and for parents who chose, for reasons of conscience or religious belief, to not vaccinate their children.
Overall the report suggests that Texas schools have a high rate of coverage for each required vaccine, however compared to the previous school year "kindergarten students have slightly lower coverage as reports of conscientious exemptions, provisional enrollment, and delinquencies all increased slightly in 2017-2018."
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Amy Nemeczky of Frisco is one of the increasing number of parents opting out of vaccinations for their children.
Her son was diagnosed with autism at age four, and out of concern about the impact of vaccines, she chose, from that point on, not to have her son vaccinated with most of the required immunizations.
Since the state's exemption program started in 2003, the number of families taking advantage has accelerated to a point that's concerning medical experts.
"You're leaving your child open for measles, chicken pox, influenza, meningitis, many very serious illnesses which are life threatening that could be prevented with a simple vaccination," said pediatrician Dr. Russell McDonald of Plano.
He encourages parents to talk with their trusted pediatrician before making a decision whether to vaccinate.
Nemeczky agrees and encourages others parents to do their own research, as they make decisions that will impact the health of their children.
"I am just more careful in what I choose to go ahead and do. It's not that I have never vaccinated. I have. I choose not to at this point."
The vaccination rates for North Texas kindergartners are as follows: DTaP (96.21 percent), Hepatitis A (95.84 percent), Hepatitis B (97.27 percent), MMR (96.53 percent), Polio (96.51 percent) and Varicella (95.79 percent).
Compared to the previous school year, kindergarten coverage decreased by 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points and conscientious exemption rates increased by at least 0.2 percentage points in every vaccine category while the delinquency rates increased by 0.05 to 0.11 percentage points.
The 2017-2018 survey, which had a response rate of 83 percent, indicated 56,738 kindergarten through 12th grade students were reported as having a conscientious objection to vaccination, or 1.07 percent of the number of students enrolled in schools that responded to the survey.
For 7th grade students, vaccination coverage improved though the department attributed that to decreases in provisional enrollment and delinquencies.
The vaccination rates for North Texas 7th graders are as follows: Tdap (96.81 percent), Hepatitis A (98.22 percent), Hepatitis B (98.81 percent), MVC4 (96.88 percent), MMR (98.92 percent), Polio (98.70 percent) and Varicella (97.22 percent). See the Full 2017-2018 Report Below
Provisional enrollments are granted to students who have received at least one dose of a required age-appropriate vaccine and is on schedule to receive subsequent doses on the first date of attendance. The immunization status of those students are reviewed every 30 days by a school nurse to ensure compliance. A delinquent student is one who has not received a vaccine and has not supplied a valid exemption. Delinquent students are required to be excluded from school until the dose is administered
Schools are asked to maintain an up-to-date list of students with exemptions, so they may be excluded in times of emergency or epidemic declared by the commissioner of public health.