Fewer kids in North Texas are getting vaccinated. COVID misinformation could be to blame
A smaller percentage of kids in North Texas are vaccinated now compared to 2017.
That’s according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services and a biannual report from Children’s Health in Dallas, assessing seven counties, including Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin.
In 2017, the percentage of kids in those counties vaccinated for diseases like polio, hepatitis and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) was between 95%-96%. But in recent years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, these numbers have dropped to between 91%-93%.
Most states require some form of vaccinations for students and young kids. At Dallas ISD, for example, students enrolling for the first time have to be vaccinated against MMR, chicken pox, Hepatitis A and B and other diseases unless they have an exemption.
The percentage of conscientious exemptions to vaccinations has also been increasing in Texas over the past decade for all grade levels, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Back in 2012, a little over 1% of kindergarten students were vaccine exempt. Now it’s more than 3.5%.
Dallas County Health and Human Services director Philip Huang said one reason is “vaccines have been a victim of their own success.”
“People don't see kids in iron lungs from polio anymore, but it's because of the effectiveness of vaccines,” he said. “But then it starts to get people questioning, ‘Oh, do I still need these?’ And absolutely, people do need the vaccines.”
He said the number of visitors to the county’s immunization clinics has dropped since 2020. Huang said in 2019, clinics had almost 43,000 visitors. So far in 2023, that number is closer to 27,000.
He’s concerned misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine has started to impact other kinds of immunizations.
“Different misinformation that's been out there has affected people's trust in some of these things,” Huang said.
National childhood vaccination trends
“There were always pockets of the population that had concerns about vaccinations and there were certain communities who wanted to opt out,” she said. “But I think COVID raised the level of concern around vaccinations.”
She said unlike the newer COVID-19 vaccine, vaccines like those against MMR have been around since the 1960s.
“For generations, really, we've had vaccines as a tool in our toolbox to really help prevent and fight infection,” Davis said. “When we look at the benefit of having vaccines, while we understand that there's some skepticism, we have years and years and years of data.”
She wants to remind people that childhood vaccinations prevent worse health outcomes for kids later in life.
“The HPV vaccine, the human papilloma virus, that vaccine helps prevent the virus that can cause cervical cancer,” Davis said. “That has huge implications on the downstream effects of people's lives.”
Vaccinations don’t just help kids and families, she said; they improve community health outcomes overall.
“When we think about childhood vaccines, we’re protecting that individual kid, and also we're protecting that whole classroom of kids that they are sitting together with,” Davis said.
She encourages parents and families to bring questions about vaccines to their pediatrician or family doctor.
“People get information from so many places now,” Davis said. “There's Dr. Google and social media, and it can be really hard to know what's true, what's false and what’s misinformation. Really having that trusted source, [going] back to your primary care physician, they’re the ones who can answer the question.”
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