Amid the excitement of going back to school, hundreds of school children and teenagers across the region are at risk for contracting diseases like the measles, mumps, chicken pox, and pertussis.
Medical professionals are concerned because kids are not being immunized and the consequences could be dire.
“If you get pertussis or whooping cough as it’s commonly referred to, you’re going to be living with 90 days of coughing,” said Dr. Nicole Odom, a pediatrician with Heritage Health. “The odds of transmitting it to a sibling are fairly high. It’s quite dangerous for infants to get it. It is not a lot of fun to get whooping cough and it can be avoided so easily.”
If you thought Idaho required students to be immunized in order to attend school, you would be correct. However, Idaho law also allows children to receive an exemption from being immunized and a growing number of students are taking exemptions. Data from the 2016-17 academic school year in Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene School District shows that the percent of student records reported as meeting Idaho Immunization Requirements and the percent of records reported with all required immunizations have both decreased.
“Within our district, which covers Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone counties, we have seen exemption rates steadily climb from 6.8% in 2009 to 14% in 2016,” said Katherine Hoyer, spokeswoman for Panhandle Health District. “According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), children in families who have been granted a vaccine exemption are more than 35 times more likely to contract measles and nearly six times more likely to contract pertussis. The Institute for Vaccine Safety found that states with relaxed exemption policies had approximately 50% more cases of whooping cough compared to states with stricter immunization laws.”
The reasons for this trend are complex, political and not always easy to define. Some doctors believe vaccination safety is a concern for parents.
“These vaccinations are safe,” Odom said. “Some of the fears are based on faulty science. It is perfectly ok to get your child immunized.”
Children typically receive a series of vaccinations from birth to two and a half years of age and then again when they turn four years old.
“We get a surge of middle school kids when they are entering the sixth and seventh grade,” said Odom. “They need a second set of vaccinations like a tetanus booster and pertussis to protect them.”
In addition to immunizations, Heritage Health offers annual checkups and sports physicals.
“We get really busy right before school,” said Odom. “It’s a busy time, but an exciting time as well, especially for those young children entering kindergarten. We love seeing kids.”
For information or to schedule an appointment, call (208) 620-5250.