JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As kids head back to school there’s a real concern about their health beyond the coronavirus and it’s something parents can control.
According to the Florida Department of Health in Duval County, more than half of the county’s four year-olds and nearly 30 percent of five year-olds are not fully vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.
About a year ago, before COVID-19 gripped the world, News4Jax looked at the number of parents choosing to not vaccinate their kids. Duval County was above the national average when it came to vaccinations but now the numbers are so low that health officials are concerned it could lead to another health crisis.
“This is not a political issue,” Dr. Pauline Rolle, director of the Duval County health department, said. “This is a health issue, this is a life-and-death issue.”
Dr. Rolle is worried about the number of children who are not protected from diseases that are vaccine-preventable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 246 children die every day around the globe from measles, despite the fact that a vaccine has been available for more than 50 years.
“You always hear those concerns about parents’ freedom of choice and I support parents being able to make a choice for their child,” Rolle said. “But some of these choices are not steeped in science — they are steeped in fear.”
This year is very different. Some parents are still nervous about going to the doctor or think that because their kids are learning virtually at home they don’t need vaccinations.
“It’s important for parents to keep that in mind just because their child is staying at home does not mean they’re exempt,” Rolle said. “There’s some laws that basically enforce the need to have a vaccination record on file at the school of record.”
So whether at home or in school, students must get vaccinated unless a parent files an exemption. For those who don’t get vaccinated, they’re at risk.
Rolle points out that with so few little ones getting their shots, you can’t rely on herd immunity. She said achieving herd immunity requires at least 80% of the population to be vaccinated and 98% is optimal. Right now, the numbers for three- and four year-olds aren’t anywhere near that.
“It’s not just a Duval issue, this is a worldwide issue and so everyone is put at risk by children not being vaccinated appropriately,” Rolle said.
There are several options through the county health department to get free vaccines. To learn more, visit the health department’s website.