We can do a better job of immunizing our students from disease

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Kentucky students are not as protected from preventable diseases as they should be.

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Almost no county school systems in the state have student high school populations immunized at high enough levels to grant “herd immunity,” according to the newest immunization survey report from the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Out of the state’s 120 counties, only one — Ballard County — met the “Healthy People 2020” goals for immunizations against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, meningitis, hepatitis A, varicella and other preventable diseases, according to the report. Only one county — Hickman County — met the Healthy People 2020 goals for students in 11th grade.

Significantly more counties — but still not many — have adequately immunized students in seventh grade (41 counties) and kindergarten (48 counties).

The Healthy People 2020 objectives set targets between 80% and 95% for percentage of students who receive the various recommended immunizations. Higher percentages of immunized students allow for “herd immunity,” which helps protect small percentages of individuals who cannot or choose not to receive an immunization, perhaps because of an immune system condition that makes an immunization unsafe; or a religious conviction against receiving an immunization.

According to the report, problems with growing numbers of people opting against immunizations must be counteracted with education about “the social benefits of vaccinations” for parents.

If effective education isn’t provided, “there will continue to be increases in ‘free-ride’ or reliance on herd immunity to avoid vaccination within school settings,” according to the report. “Therefore, more education needs to be provided to parents about the public health impacts vaccinations have within schools, especially for the protection of vulnerable students who are immunocompromised.”

Boyle County was one of the 48 counties where kindergartners are properly immunized for all diseases; at the seventh, 11th and 12th grade levels, Boyle County fell short for hepatitis A immunizations.

At the seventh-grade level, Boyle students (across all schools, not just the Boyle County district) met the immunization goals for all diseases except hepatitis A. A total of 80.3% of students were immunized, which comes up short of the 85% target.

Boyle’s rate of hepatitis A immunization in 11th and 12th grades is much worse: 49.7% in 11th grade and 49% in 12th grade. (Boyle also fell just short of the 90% immunization target for varicella in the 12th grade, coming in at 89.2%.)

Failure to get or provide hepatitis A immunizations is not a Boyle County-specific problem. “More than a third of Kentucky school students are in violation of the year-old state law requiring them to be vaccinated for the liver disease,” according to Kentucky Health News. But just because it’s a common problem elsewhere doesn’t mean Boyle County can’t break from the pack.

You may remember hepatitis A making the news here multiple times in recent years. Multiple cases of hepatitis A at the Boyle County Detention Center created a quarantine situation there in the summer of 2018. Early this year, the public was encouraged to get hep A vaccines after a worker at a local restaurant tested positive for the disease.

This new report shows we’re not doing enough to protect some of the people we ought to be doing our most to protect — our students. That needs to change.