The United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history, with laws requiring years of testing to ensure vaccines are safe.

On June 18, staff from the Department of Health in Flagler County met with members of the county School Board at a workshop. Our purpose was two-fold. First, we wanted to review with School Board members the positive results we had as part of our collaboration with Flagler schools during this past school year. These activities include the coordination of routine school health activities and screenings (vision, hearing, body mass index), administration of flu vaccines at school (1,247 children and 100 teachers received shots) and outcomes from the dental sealant program to prevent tooth decay by sealing the molars of 1,200 children.

[Experts: Back-to-school shots help keep Volusia, Flagler counties healthy ]

Our second objective was to talk about the importance of immunization, which has an enormous impact on improving the health of American children. Fortunately, most parents have never experienced the devastating consequences that vaccine preventable disease can have on a child, family or community. Nonetheless, it’s important for us to talk about the effectiveness of vaccines considering the nationwide measles outbreak in 27 states and more than 1,000 cases.

During this meeting with School Board members Janet McDonald, Maria Barbosa and Andy Dance, we shared that Flagler County has the state’s second highest rate religious exemption rate (6.2%) for vaccinations for children from 4 to 18 years. In addition, Flagler’s percentage of kindergartners who have all their required, medically recommended vaccines is among the lowest in the state at 92% compared to the target of 95%.

This means putting our unvaccinated kindergarten students and others at risk because we fall below the rate necessary to sustain “herd immunity.” While medical vaccine exemptions are valid, some parents use “religious exemption” as a reason to not immunize their children, which puts them, other children and adults at higher risk for communicable diseases that are preventable.

In the 20th century, we’ve witnessed major scientific and public health achievements like the elimination of smallpox and polio as public health threats. However, now that our county is facing measles outbreaks, we are reminded why vaccinations matter. The United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history, with laws requiring years of testing to ensure vaccines are safe before they are offered to the public. This process can take 10 years or longer. And once a vaccine is in use, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitor any associated side effects through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

In addition to sharing our concerns about the county’s high religious exemption rate, we asked the School Board to consider adding a third vaccine to those the Health Department offers in schools -- the Human Papillomavirus or HPV vaccine. At this point, we are aware of three school districts in Florida —Santa Rosa, Citrus and Monroe -- that have done so.

Why HPV? Because the science and medical research has proven that it is very effective in preventing nine cancers, including cervical, throat and penis. It is estimated that 80 million Americans are currently infected by HPV and that HPV causes 33,700 cancers in men and women annually. The HPV vaccine is recommended by the CDC for both males and females, between 9-17 years of age.

Since increasing the number of teens receiving the HPV vaccine is both a national and state public health goal, we would like to present this as an option for parents. Of course, we would require parental consent, but this could prevent cancer later in life.

Since two school board members had additional questions about the vaccine, our health department team will return to the School Board at another workshop on August 20. We will share the HPV Information Sheet produced by the Centers for Disease Control that we recommend sending to parents along with the consent form they will need to sign. The publication, “HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Vaccine: What You Need to Know” includes pertinent facts about HPV, the vaccine, risks of a vaccine reaction and where to find additional information. It is our hope that the School Board will vote to add the HPV vaccine to the optional list of vaccines we provide to students in schools. Like the flu and t-Dap vaccines, parents will decide whether their children will receive this vaccination administered by our Health Department nursing staff.

Since it is our mission to protect, promote and improve the health of Flagler County residents, we hope to have the opportunity to vaccinate Flagler County students against human papillomavirus and the cancers it could cause later. Please join us in encouraging the Flagler County School Board to make this option available to parents.

 

Snyder is the administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Flagler County.