By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
As vaccination rates in Kentucky decline, the Kentucky Rural Health Association is sponsoring an Immunization Summit on May 10 at the Embassy Suites in Lexington.
The keynote speaker will be Ruth Carrico, a senior research scientist with the Norton Infectious Diseases Institute, who will speak about promoting public confidence in vaccines.
The conference will touch on several topics, including information on the state of immunizations in Kentucky, the role of mobile units in vaccination, barriers to immunization and messages to overcome them, attitudes about immunization research, and more.
The summit is timely because Kentucky children are behind on their routine immunizations and most Kentuckians still haven’t gotten the latest, recommended bivalent Covid-19 booster.
During a recent Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky webinar, Kathleen Winters, state epidemiologist for Kentucky and the director for the Division of Epidemiology and Health Planning with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, talked about how well-child visits got off track during the pandemic, resulting in many Kentucky children missing routine vaccinations.
She said the Kentucky School Immunization Survey shows that particularly among seventh graders, the DTaP or Tdap vaccination, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, has been on a steady decline since the 2018-19 school year.
“This is particularly concerning because we have had recent outbreaks of pertussis here in the state,” Winters said of the disease known as whooping cough. “We do see cyclic peaks every several years and we are primed to potentially be leading into a major pertussis epidemic in the coming year or two if we don’t really push to get our pertussis vaccine rates up to where we want them to be at that 90 percent threshold.”
Looking at last year’s rates for the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella, Winters said Kentucky’s rate of 86.5% of kindergarteners receiving two doses of the MMR vaccine was well below the national rate of 93.5%, and among the lowest five states for MMR coverage.
Further, she said, children have the biggest gap in Covid-19 vaccine coverage.
Kentuckians are also lagging behind when it comes to getting boosted, with only 12% of the state’s total population having received the bivalent booster, which has extra protection against the Omicron variant, according to The New York Times Covid-19 data tracker.
KRHA has formed the Immunize Kentucky Coalition, which says its vision is to “work to increase immunization rates and prevent disease by fostering a partnership of Kentucky parents, patients, businesses, healthcare organizations, and others by promoting health equity that supports the delivery of safe and effective immunizations through stronger community buy-in and public health education.” Click here to learn more about the coalition.