Child vaccinations plummet: Health chief says get the kids immunized now

MGN Online

Cameron County children are way behind on their shots, probably because their parents are wary of going to doctors offices and clinics because of the fear of catching COVID-19.

Esmeralda Guajardo, administrator for Cameron County Public Health, said her department’s four clinics provide low-cost vaccines to children of eligible families through the Texas Vaccines for Children immunization program, and that CCPH also helps other medical providers who are interested get set up as TVFC providers. The program covers eligible children from birth to age 18 and roughly half of Texas children are eligible — more than half in Cameron County because of socioeconomic status, she said.

Guajardo reported that the number of children getting vaccinated for diseases such as chicken pox, measles and rubella through the program between March and August was 77% less than the same six-month period last year. She called that alarming, since it leaves those children unprotected.

Guajardo said families are likely putting it off in part because the kids aren’t in school right now, which means nobody’s been checking to make sure they have the vaccinations mandated by the state.

“I do think it has to do with COVID and people are concerned,” she said. “There’s that fear factor of their kids being exposed to COVID, so I think they’re playing the waiting game to see whether things improve to be able to go in and have the children vaccinated.”

CCPH clinics also house services through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and staff always use the opportunity to talk to families about vaccinations. In fact, just about every form of outreach by CCPH — even septic tank inspections—includes some vaccine education.

“We have been trying to encourage that, but when you see the numbers dropping so much we know we have to ramp that up a little,” Guajardo said. “What’s working against us is accessibility to doctors offices and providers.”

COVID-19 has shown how bad a disease can be when no vaccine is available, underscoring the importance of taking advantage of vaccines when they are available, she said. During normal times, Cameron County parents are pretty good at getting their kids’ shots on time, Guajardo said

“Surprisingly, to a lot of people, our area is pretty compliant with vaccination schedules,” she said. “Our region ranks pretty high compared to other regions.”

CCPH is kicking off its back-to-school vaccination campaign, though when public schools do reopen for face-to-face instruction (after Sept. 28 per county mandate) parents will have no choice but to get their children immunized, otherwise they won’t be allowed to attend school unless they have an official exemption for religious or medical reasons, Guajardo said.

“I expect our clinics are going to start being overloaded,” she said. “Typically people tend to procrastinate. That’s the other aspect of this. Once it becomes a necessity I think that’s when you’re going to start seeing an increase in the number of people coming into our clinics.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com