Health News

Vaccination rates in Central Florida leave students exposed

Orlando SentinelSchools are a potential hot spot for the spread of contagious illnesses such as measles. But in Central Florida, most counties aren’t reaching the optimal minimum of kindergartners fully vaccinated, state records show.

In Central Florida, only Lake County reaches a 95 percent vaccination rate for kids in kindergarten. That’s the rate the Department of Health recommends to ensure community resistance to infectious diseases.

By the time students reach seventh grade, public- and private-school vaccination rates generally top 95 percent in Central Florida, with the exception of Osceola County, where just 90 percent are protected — the lowest rate in the state.

Osceola kindergartners, meanwhile, are vaccinated at a 90.3 percent rate.

“When you are in school, it’s an opportunity to share illnesses,” said Tori Sheahan, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Glenridge Middle School in Orange County. “I encourage people to vaccinate because they can minimize the chances of their children contracting one of these vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Dawn Peterson, who has a 2-year-old and a kindergartner at Brookshire Elementary in Orange County, said she vaccinates but knows many parents who are delaying vaccines or skipping them altogether.

“It’s a very personal choice,” she said. Although she understands the doubts, “I think the benefits probably outweigh the risks for most.”

The vaccination rates are even more important now: 125 people in seven states have been infected by a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in California in mid-December. Most of them were unvaccinated.

And whooping cough, also known as pertussis, has been coming back after years of few cases. In 2013, there were 732 cases in Florida. Exact numbers for 2014 weren’t available, but preliminary data show the number of cases went up.

Measles, a highly contagious virus, starts with cold or flulike symptoms followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. It spreads through coughing and sneezing and can lead to pneumonia, swelling of the brain and death in rare cases.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing that can make it hard to breathe. It can be fatal, especially in infants.

Tim Hendrix, medical director for Centra Care, said these preventable diseases are coming back because of lagging vaccine rates. [READ FULL ARTICLE]