Only 76 percent of children entering kindergarten in McPherson County for the school years of 2009-’10 and 2010-’11 had the required vaccinations.
Kansas children entering kindergarten are typically required to have four polio vaccinations, two MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations, two varicella (chicken pox) vaccinations, and three hepatitis B vaccinations.
The state of Kansas allow two exemptions to the requirements — religious beliefs or a documented history of allergic or severe medical reaction to vaccines.
On a national scale, a number of formerly eradicated or rare diseases have returned to regional spotlights, including pertussis (whooping cough) outbreaks in Boulder, Colo. and Washington state, and, most recently, a measles outbreak amid the congregation of a Texas megachurch that has spread to at least 21 people after a member traveling abroad contracted the disease before returning home.
National rates of immunization have been declining since the early 2000s, as a now-withdrawn study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield attempted to make a case that the MMR vaccine caused autism in children.
After years of debate on the issue, the report was discredited and retracted by the medical journal that published it due to clear conflicts of interest.
Wakefield allegedly operated with funds from lawyers who were attempting to build a lawsuit alleging immunizations caused autism, and he also allegedly doctored data on the children on whom he conducted tests.
Wakefield’s license to practice also has been revoked.
In recent years, celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who has a son with autism, carried the anti-vaccination banner in the United States.
Despite Wakefield’s disgrace, the anti-vaccination movement continues to try to hold its ground under the logic that vaccines are simply a way for the government to ensure big pharmaceutical corporations continue making money despite threats of it causing childhood autism.
Melany Webster, a registered nurse and the immunization coordinator for the McPherson County Health Department, said the assertion that vaccines cause autism has been scientifically disproved time and time again.
“The required vaccines we give have been around a long time,” Webster said, “and their safety has been tested again and again.”
Webster said children who aren’t vaccinated can face issues other than simply catching such diseases.
“If a child is opted out of immunization,” Webster said, “then if a child in the school would happen to catch the disease, we have to send the unvaccinated child home for a set period of time. In the case of chicken pox, for example, they would lose 21 days of school.”
Statewide the county with the highest percentage of required immunizations in kindergartners was Graham County with 100 percent. The lowest was Sheridan County with 33 percent.