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Opinion: School time is vaccination time

The new school year is fast approaching, and now is a good time for parents to make sure their children have been fully vaccinated against the full array of serious childhood diseases.

Parents should check with their doctor to make sure their kids are up to date on the vaccines they need to start school.

The good news is that most children in Minnesota enter Kindergarten fully vaccinated, according to new data released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the start of last school year, just over 96 percent of all kindergarteners had received all of the immunizations required by Minnesota’s school immunization law to protect them against preventable diseases.

The percent of children who entered kindergarten fully vaccinated has remained steady at about 96 percent since 2005, according to data from the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health.

But here’s the bad news: In the 2012-13 school year, 1.6 percent of kids entering kindergarten in Minnesota were exempt from all vaccines.

“It’s a small group compared to those who are vaccinated, but it still leaves the door open for a vaccine-preventable disease to sneak in and make a child very sick or worse,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division at MDH. “We’re always striving for 100 percent vaccination coverage.”

The remaining 2.3 percent of children were partially vaccinated at the time schools reported compliance with the requirements.

Some of these children likely went on to be vaccinated after the date when the data were collected or they obtained a legal exemption to some, but not all vaccines.

It’s easy to take childhood vaccines for granted, but their importance can be highlighted with the resurgence of whooping cough (pertussis).

High vaccination rates with DTaP, the pediatric vaccine that provides whooping cough protection, plays an important role in keeping levels of pertussis down in a community.

This past year, over 80 cases of whooping cough were reported in Wright County, whose major cities include Albertville and Monticello, just west of the metro area.

The outbreak started in a youth mission trip then moved throughout a small community and into the schools, affecting mostly adolescents.

Even with this significant increase in pertussis disease, the high rates of vaccination in young children prevented spread to the younger age groups.

“It’s very reassuring to see that Minnesota has been able to maintain a high vaccination rate for our kindergarteners,” said Karen Ernst, co-founder of the Minnesota Childhood Immunization Coalition.

“I think it’s important for parents out there to know that vaccinating your child is the norm. Parents who choose not to vaccinate are relying on the rest of us to protect their child and are leaving their child susceptible to disease.”

Having a high vaccination rate is vital for the health of the population because it prevents disease from spreading.

This is especially important for protecting those who can’t be vaccinated because of a medical condition or who don’t respond to immunization because of a weak immune system.

Their only protection is other people doing the right thing for the community.