Texas Falls 10 Places in Immunizations Rate

The child immunization rate is down across Texas and Harris County. Doctors and public health officials say one of the biggest problems is not being able to keep track of children when they move or change doctors. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Texas fell 10 places, from 24th to 34th in the nation for child immunizations. Sounds like a big drop, but it was actually only a 2.1 percent decrease in the overall rate. Dr. Jason Terk is a pediatrician and chairs the Texas Medical Association's Committee on Child and Adolescent Health. He says although we no longer see cases of polio or diptheria, it's important to understand we no longer see them because we are maintaining a barely adequate immunization rate across the state.

"Texas is, like many states, at a level that is acceptable for preventing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, but just barely so. Most vaccine-preventable diseases are kept at bay with immunization rates that are in the low to mid 70s percent. And that's approximately where Texas is."

In fact, overall Texas has a 74.7 percent immunization rate. Harris County, including the City of Houston, is even lower at 69.9 percent. Harris County Public Health Immunization Manager Lois Austin says these rates are determined by a survey of the population.

"This survey is done as a telephone call to the parent. The parent tells them where they got the immunization, then CDC or whomever is running the survey sends communication to that provider and says 'can you say yes this child got the immunization at your site?' so if the provider does not respond to the survey then that information isn't included."

While the methodology for determining the immunization rate may not be precise, public health officials agree it's pretty close. Lots of kids aren't getting immunized and there are lots of reasons for that. One of the major struggles is maintaining a medical home. Another problem is making sure a child completes the full series of boosters.

"Harris County is doing a reminder initiative. And we're targeting the parents of children who are 0-18 months. Studies have shown that the children start falling off from getting their immunizations when they're between the 6 month and two year period -- and these are children who are usually at home. So we will be sending out letters to tell the parent 'your child needs to get immunizations.'"

Texas health officials say a child isn't considered immunized until the complete series of shots is administered, and follow-through is the biggest challenge to raising the state's poor immunization numbers. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...