Is Your Child's Environment Safe from Vaccine-Preventable Threats?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP
November 30, 2016
From the moment we become parents, we work to keep our children's environment safe. We child-proof our homes and make sure poisons and dangerous objects are secured wherever our kids spend time. But we aren't always as diligent about making sure the community spaces where our children learn and play are protected from threats we can't see, like infectious diseases.
Just this fall there was a vaccine-preventable disease reported in my son's 2nd grade cohort. When he started kindergarten a couple years ago we were told the class was 100 percent up-to-date on immunizations, so I got done worrying about things like exposures to chicken pox, measles and mumps from his classmates. We know vaccines aren't 100 percent protective, of course, but I took stock in knowing that his class of children was protected as best they could be.
So, when I heard about the case of chicken pox, it reminded me I needed to check back in.
Because he's fully immunized, I wasn't worried when I heard the news about this case of chicken pox (varicella vaccine has a high vaccine effectiveness, with 98 percent of children protected after two doses). But it got me thinking that I needed to contact the school and see how we're doing. Not just on the state-mandated vaccines, where we scored 100 percent a couple years ago, but on influenza vaccine, too. Often we have no idea the percent of a class that is protected on this essential, every-year vaccine.
"More than ever before, clearly articulating that you vaccinate your child and that you want your child amid a group that does the same is essential."
Every parent should know if their child resides, learns, and plays in a safe environment, and knowing their child's "world" is up-to-date on vaccines is an important data point. Knowing where your community stands just got a little easier. The new AAP interactive infographic is a great, high-level view into knowing how your state fares with status on vaccines and protections from outbreaks of infections like measles and pertussis, as well as influenza.
To me, there is no question that pediatricians' time and passion communicating truths and opportunities with vaccines will always be time well spent.
Recent data out this year proves it: a third of vaccine-hesitant parents change their mind and agree to have their child receive a vaccine after their doctor provided vaccine education. But there is something else in me that knows, over time, we'll tighten the gap on trust with parents when their peers step up and demand higher vaccine rates in their schools, their playgrounds, their communities, and even their play dates. When pro-vaccine parents share their feelings of trust, support, and desire to have a community up-to-date, that's when we'll reach the 95 percent level we want.
"Pediatricians and parents can partner unlike ever before and with tools unlike we've ever had to make sure the spaces where our children spend their days is as safe as possible."
We've been dealing with a perception problem for years when it comes to vaccines. This is in part because of media portrayals about controversy with vaccines, but it's also because parents haven't had the tools nor the call to action to be the ones in charge of ensuring a population is up-to-date on shots. Although we know 9 out of 10 parents immunize their children based on the AAP and CDC schedules, we also know the public often perceives that many more children aren't getting vaccines. I'm haunted by the
data published in
Pediatrics in 2011 that found that more than 1 in 4 parents (28 percent) who followed the recommended schedule seemed to think those children whose parents who didn't–who delayed vaccines or followed an alternative schedule--were safer.
Not a single study finding a delayed or alternative schedule is safer, and yet here we are with many parents following our recommendations but not entirely trusting them. Yuck.
That's where parent-to-parent support and peer-to-peer health care comes in.
Knowing where you live and how your community is doing on vaccines and speaking up about what you believe matters. More than ever before, clearly articulating that you vaccinate your child and that you want your child amid a group that does the same is essential. Check out your state's data in the AAP infographic. Get even deeper into the data with online resources like
School Digger that allow you to peruse the data on vaccine status at the school level.
Pediatricians and parents can partner unlike ever before and with tools unlike we've ever had to make sure the spaces where our children spend their days is as safe as possible. Speak up, ask about rates at your schools and tell other parents how much you value vaccines that protect your children and their friends.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP, is an executive committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media and Chief of Digital Innovation at Seattle Children's Hospital. She also writes the Seattle Mama Doc blog for the hospital, where a version of this post also will appear.