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Vaccination rates in local schools reassuring

October 6, 2017
By GLYNIS HART - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Cold and flu season is getting underway, and if you have kids in school, it's likely they will stay home some time over the winter, thanks to the travels of infectious germs from one kid to another. For more severe infectious diseases, kids in New York state are required to have all their immunizations before they're allowed inside the school doors, but in local schools a small percentage do not. Data is taken from the New York State Department of Health School Immunization Survey, for the 2015-16 school year.

-At the Saranac Lake Central School District, 98.5 percent of students were fully immunized.

-St. Bernard's private school had a 97 percent immunization rate.

-At Tupper Lake, 100 percent of the students are completely immunized.

-Keene Central School had 91.4 percent of kids completely immunized, with zero medical exemptions but 3.09 percent religious exemptions.

-At Long Lake, 98.2 percent of the students are completely immunized.

-At Lake Placid, 96.7 percent of the students are completely immunized.

-At St. Agnes parochial school in Lake Placid, 87.8 percent of the students are completely immunized.

Rates for New York state overall are 95.2 percent.

Although some believe that New York state does not accept religious beliefs as a reason to exempt kids from getting vaccinations, the state Department of Health website states, "A student may be exempt from vaccination if, in the opinion of the institution, that student or student's parent(s) or guardian of those less than 18 years old holds genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to the practice of immunization. The student requesting exemption may or may not be a member of an established religious organization."

Vaccination rates in private schools across New York state hover around 89 percent.

There is also a small number of kids who have a medical exemption to vaccinations, with a documented severe reaction to vaccinations.

According to Health Department officials, unvaccinated children are put on a high-risk list so that, if there were a disease outbreak in the schools, the Health Department, medical providers and the school would work together to make sure the children continue to receive educational services while not putting other kids at risk. That could mean staying at home until the danger has passed.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines 95 percent as the benchmark for "community immunity," where enough of a group of people is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Where more than 95 percent of the school population is immunized, even unvaccinated children are somewhat protected.

But there's always a risk.

Susan Allott, director of preventive services at the Essex County Public Health Department, said, "I would never say your kids are totally safe," even though school vaccination rates are over 98 percent.

"It could be a visitor to the school, a guest speaker, an older adult family member" who brings a preventable disease into contact with your child, Allott said. In the beginning of a school year, some parents are still scrambling to get their kids to the doctor for shots, too.

"Inevitably, at the beginning of school, some schools have a grace period," Allott said.


Shots needed for adults

Meanwhile, medical providers are battling a foe they once thought defeated: whooping cough. Also known as pertussis, whooping cough had almost disappeared by the 1970s, thanks to widely used vaccines. However, the old vaccine had some side effects, and a new one, while less reactive, may be less effective in the long term. The CDC estimate that the pertussis vaccines are 80 percent to 90 percent effective, with a decrease in effectiveness in each year following the last vaccination. About three or four out of 10 people are fully protected four years after getting a pertussis vaccine, with the effectiveness higher for kids: seven out of 10 five years after their last shot.

Children who get their regularly scheduled vaccinations are protected, but babies, who are too young for shots, rely on the adults around them for immunity. Whooping cough causes prolonged, painful coughing that in adults can be strong enough to break a rib. For babies, the risk is much higher: Almost all of the 20 deaths in 2014 from whooping cough were infants.

"All year, we are trying to get adults to get pertussis vaccinations," Allott said. She said grandparents, older siblings and babysitters should get vaccinations before a newborn comes home.

Allott said her public health department is also working on raising the number of adults who get flu shots.

"We're in the midst of our strategic plan," she said. "We've linked our public flu clinics to the WIC clinics, which is helping." Public health staff stay on hand during the Women, Infants and Children clinics, and also stay after so that people can get their shots while they're there.

However, Allott reminds people that vaccines are only one of many protective measures people should take.

"Vaccines are not a 100 percent guarantee against infectious diseases, and infants are especially vulnerable," she said. "I would hope people would get vaccinated not only to protect themselves, but the people around them."



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