Texas Medical Association physician leaders are voicing their concerns after Texas fell to 34th nationally in immunizing children ages 19 months to 35 months.

The finding was part of the recently-released 2006 National Immunization Survey, which indicates more Texas children are at risk of contracting disease than before.

“This is tragic; Texas needs to start going in the right direction,” said Jaime Fergie, MD, advisor for TMA’s Be Wise — Immunize vaccination program. “With low immunization rates, Texas will see a comeback of once-rare diseases and we will be victims of our past success.

“It’s unfortunate that parents don’t think about the danger of childhood diseases because of how well immunizations work, but it’s dangerous to let our guard down,” said Fergie, who specializes in treating pediatric infectious diseases in Corpus Christi.

Texas’ 2006 vaccination rate of 74.7 percent dropped the state to 34th place from its 24th-place spot in 2005. Texas vaccinated 76.8 percent of its youngest children in 2005. The 2.1 percent rate decrease led to the 10-place fall.

Texas’ low child immunization rates inspired TMA physicians to create the Be Wise — Immunize program three years ago. The program produced landmark results in 2005, with more than 25,000 shots administered to Texas children. Be Wise - Immunize contributed to Texas’ surge from 41st place in 2004 to the 24th-place score in 2005. In 2005, Texas also rose above the national average for the first time since the survey began in 1994.

In the latest survey, however, Texas fell back below the 77 percent national average rate of child immunization.

“Complete vaccination is complete protection,” Fergie said, noting patients not completing their vaccine series is part of the reason why Texas’ immunization rates remain low.

For example, the fourth dose of the vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) is recommended before a child turns 19 months of age. Ensuring parents follow through continues to be the biggest challenge to increasing vaccine coverage levels, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“It’s a shame that some parents don’t take full advantage of opportunities to vaccinate their child or start to and then don’t complete the vaccine series,” Fergie said, noting patients are not fully protected if they do not complete the recommended series.

In three years, Be Wise - Immunize program participants have given more than 90,000 shots to Texas children. Funded by TMA’s philanthropic arm, the TMA Foundation, the program provides physicians and volunteers with resources for hosting weekend or after-hour clinics.

“Immunization programs like Be Wise have contributed a great deal to the overall education and awareness of the importance of immunizations,” Fergie said. “Such programs have done well for Texas patients, but we have more work to do.”

Besides participating physicians, volunteers include TMA Alliance members (physician spouses), county medical societies and community coalitions.

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