By Patricia Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP, Director of Pediatric Infectious Disease & Immunology Infection Control
The case of measles detected last week in Minnesota revives strong memories for me of Minnesota’s measles outbreak in the early 1990s. Child health care providers back then will never forget the panic among parents, the babies on ventilators, and the ones who did not survive.
We pay close attention when there is a case of measles because the disease is so highly contagious that even just one case is considered epidemic. While state health officials are still monitoring the confirmed case reported last week, it serves to show that vaccine-preventable diseases continue to be a problem. And that problem may well be due to a worrisome trend we see occurring not just in Minnesota but across the country.
Declining immunization rates.
This trend has the attention of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. As part of our series of reports on the health of Minnesota’s children called “Children’s Check-Ups,” we decided to take an in-depth look at immunization rates among Minnesota’s children, where they were slipping and why. Our report, called “Check-Up 2: Vaccinations and the Challenges Confronting Minnesota Children,” is now released and can be found at www.childrensmn.org/about-us/childrens-check-ups-series.
We found that Minnesota’s immunization rate for children ages 19 months to 35 months dropped 3.6 percentage points from 2007 (80.5 percent) to 2009 (76.9 percent). As a result, Minnesota’s rank in immunization dropped to 20th place in 2009 from the seventh in 2007. We saw similar drops in vaccinations against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (DTaP and Tdap), and chickenpox vaccine.
Quite simply, the lower the immunization rate, the more likely the disease will spread. Even a one percentage point drop is cause for concern when you consider that it means that more than 4,200 young Minnesota kids are left unprotected.
Last year, we saw a resurgence of whooping cough in Minnesota, which threatens to recur this year. Our report notes declines in whooping cough vaccination rates among young kids, and a poor showing among adolescents for the booster shot version.
We found two powerful forces contributing to declining immunization rates. The first is disparities in care, often linked to poverty, which limits access to vaccines among certain populations. The second is a growing mix of complacency, misinformation and misunderstanding that keeps parents from protecting their children against vaccine-preventable disease.
I had the opportunity to talk about these issues during Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning program on Tues., March 8. You can download the podcast here. We hope our report, by providing a clear, factual and in-depth look at these issues, can serve as a resource to inform parents, government leaders, health care providers and advocates about these issues, and to spark a meaningful and productive discussion of how to better protect our kids. They are counting on us to protect them.