Minnesota is currently experiencing a large measles outbreak among unvaccinated children. While this state is far from Texas, anyone can travel to and from Minnesota easily, bringing the disease to other parts of the country. Current reports estimate that nine out of 10 non-immunized people exposed to measles will contract the disease.
The MMR vaccine protects against measles (rubeola), rubella (German measles) and mumps. According to the CDC, rubella is dangerous for both a mother and her baby. Although rubella was declared eliminated from the United States in 2004, cases can occur when unvaccinated people are exposed to infected people. Infection with the rubella virus causes the most severe damage when the mother is infected early in pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks (first trimester). Since 2012, six cases of babies with Congenital Rubella Syndrome have been reported in the United States. It is recommended that all unvaccinated women who plan to become pregnant discuss the rubella vaccine with their physicians.
Another medical protection for young people against several cancers that can develop later in life is the HPV vaccine. The human papillomavirus is a very common virus responsible for 10,500 cases of HPV-related cancers in Texas and roughly 2,900 deaths nationwide from 2009-2013 among men and women. HPV has already cost Texas $170 million and the nation $8 billion. According to the National Cancer Institute, virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and about 70 percent of oropharyngeal (middle throat area, including the tongue, soft palate and tonsils) are cancers caused by HPV. The CDC recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine for adolescents before becoming exposed to the virus, preferably starting at 11 years of age.
In 2016, I attended an HPV seminar at the Texas A&M Health Sciences Center in Round Rock, and it totally changed my misconceptions concerning HPV and the vaccine program. I became convinced that we can stop many cancers by vaccinating our younger generations with a simple and safe vaccine now. The HPV vaccine is readily available at most doctors’ offices and covered by most insurance providers. For now, the Affordable Care Act requires health plans to provide vaccines, including for HPV, to children from birth to age 18, at no additional costs beyond normal health insurance premiums and co-pays.
Having enough or any health insurance is a concern for many. Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured or underinsured children. However, insurance status should not be a deterrent to getting your child vaccinated. A program called the Texas Vaccines for Children, administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, provides low cost or no cost vaccines to children who are uninsured or underinsured. The Texas program is part of the Federal Vaccines for Children program created in 1994, with the goal of immunizing children from birth through 18 years of age who meet the eligibility requirements.
Vaccinating your children is an important and serious decision to make, and I understand how daunting that can be, especially when conflicting information is all around us. I especially feel for those parents who are terrified to send their kids to school, church or any place where children gather because they’re too young or ill to be vaccinated and must rely on high community vaccination rates to protect them. Fortunately, there is overwhelmingly credible and scientifically rigorous research about vaccines that reinforces their safety and effectiveness. You can contact the Immunization Partnership at http://www.immunizeusa.org/ for more information about vaccine safety.
As we slowly start thinking about kids going back to school, the following community immunity principle is a sound practice to follow: To protect our community by creating a safety net against these diseases, especially for those who are too young or medically fragile, we must ensure all other children are protected from these diseases through vaccines.
To see if your child qualifies for the Texas Vaccines for Children, visit https://www.dshs.texas.gov/immunize/tvfc/ or call 800-252-9152.
For locations, phone numbers and hours of the Williamson County and Cities Health District clinics located in Round Rock, Cedar Park, Taylor and Georgetown, visit http://www.wcchd.org/location_and_hours/index.php.