It’s time to make sure your children are up-to-date on vaccinations required for school; Kentucky lags behind all the states it borders

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

With just a few weeks left before school starts, it’s time to make sure your school-aged children are up to date on their required immunizations. It’s especially important because Kentucky’s children fell behind on their immunizations during the pandemic, and many of them still haven’t caught up.

“Kentucky is really low on a lot of childhood vaccines . . . and when that happens . . . when people are not vaccinated, especially children with developing immune systems, that can cause these diseases to run rampant,” said Ryan Babb, manager of the University of Kentucky‘s retail pharmacy services.

At a recent Immunization Summit hosted by the Immunize Kentucky Coalition, State Epidemiologist Kathleen Winter said Kentucky is behind all of its bordering states in routine childhood vaccination rates and is well below the national average.

Winter said the greatest concern right now is among kindergartners, because their measles-mumps-rubella vaccination rate has dropped in the last two school years.

She also noted that since 2018, fewer Kentucky children have received the DTap or Tdap vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), and this is especially true among seventh-graders.

Also, she said only 57% of Kentucky teens have taken the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that protects against more than 90% of cancers caused by it.

Babb encouraged Kentucky parents to get their children vaccinated at their local pharmacy, noting that while all Kentucky pharmacists can offer vaccinations to children between the ages of 9 and 17, some have a  “collaborative care agreement with a pediatrician,” like UK’s pharmacies do, that allows them to offer them to children as young as 6 months.

“We feel like it’s really important to increase access, it’s much easier than to . . . walk in and get a vaccination rather than having to schedule an appointment with a provider,” Babb said.

And if your child has gotten behind on their routine vaccination schedule, there are catch-up schedules to get them up-to-date. “You can always catch up,” he said.

Babb said it’s also important to remember that immunizations provide “herd immunity,” which occurs when enough people have been immunized against disease to protect others who are not immunized. Some can’t get vaccinations because their immune systems are too weak to allow them to get shots, or because they are too young.

Children can also get their routine vaccinations at health clinics, health departments and doctor’s offices, but it’s important to make those appointments soon because school typically starts in August and students are required to provide up-to-date immunization records at the beginning of each school year, unless exempted for religious or medical reasons.

Babb cautioned people who are hesitant about vaccines to make sure they are listening to reliable sources on the subject because there is a lot of vaccine misinformation out there.

“My recommendation to anybody is before you do a Google search or before you start checking any other social media or getting opinions based on that, just call your local pharmacist [or] . . . even a primary care provider . . .  to get the right information the first time before digging down a rabbit hole of misinformation,” he said.

Ruth Carrico, a senior research scientist with Norton Infectious Diseases Institute, talked at the summit about ways to combat vaccine hesitancy. She placed the bulk of that responsibility on health-care providers and their employees.

“You need to be all in,” she said. “And then be honest, unashamed, and unafraid of your position. It doesn’t mean that you’re sanctimonious, and you’re high and mighty, and you don’t listen to others. .  . But the idea is, if you are all in for immunization, then that needs to be where we are heading and that needs to be the basis for our interactions as we move forward.”

Further, she said health-care professionals must have a firm understanding and expertise of how vaccination and the immune system work to answer people’s questions in a “truthful, credible and sustainable” way.
“Our time to understand vaccines and promote vaccine confidence is now,” she said. “We need to remember very clearly, lest we get influenced by misinformation and push-back in social media, that vaccines save lives.”
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