Successful immunization programs over the past few decades have left many of us complacent about once-deadly childhood diseases.
But a recent resurgence in cases of whooping cough in South Carolina reminds us that we can't let down our guard. Parents should pay attention to new immunization requirements coming this fall.
Rising seventh-graders will need to show that they've received immunization against whooping cough, or pertussis, on or after their seventh birthday. The vaccine also includes immunizations for tetanus and diphtheria.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is particularly worrisome for infants. The disease often is transmitted to infants from older children and adults who are carrying it, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. That's why it's important older children's immunizations are up to date. More than half the infants who contract whooping cough are hospitalized.
Lawmakers also are worried about declining immunization rates in the state and are working on a mandatory immunization-reporting system. Health care providers now participate voluntarily. The hope is to get much more reliable data on how many children are getting immunized.
The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, public health and education officials and citizens, reports that South Carolina's childhood immunization rate is declining while the national average is rising.
In 2011, 73.3 percent of children nationally had received all their recommended immunizations, up from 68.4 percent in 2008 and 63.6 percent in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But from 2008 to 2009, South Carolina's childhood immunization rate fell to 59.7 percent from 70.6 percent. In 2010, the rate rose to 73.6, above the national average, but the next year it fell to 69.8 percent, below the national average.
Since 1998, South Carolina has seen increases in the number of reported cases of whooping cough, including spikes in 2005 and 2010, according to the state health department. From 1999 to 2002, the state had between 26 and 62 reported cases a year. But in 2005, the state had 413 cases reported, and in 2010, there were 404 cases reported. In 2011, whooping cough cases reported dropped to 143.
Anna-Kathryn Rye, director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of South Carolina, notes that more accurate records are a much more effective way for health care providers to find out the status of immunizations and helps them to diagnose problems more quickly. Asking parents, she said, doesn't always work because "most of the time, parents have no idea."
That's particularly true for older children.
Improved immunization rates and record-keeping are both potentially cost-saving and life-saving steps.