Drop in vaccination rates for state of Florida

Published: May. 2, 2016 at 2:29 PM CDT
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The Florida Department of Health is reporting that vaccination rates in Florida schools are at their lowest levels in more than a decade.

Nearly 93% of Kindergarten students and 90.6% of 7th-graders had their required immunizations this year.

By law, the state of Florida requires students entering public and private schools to get a series of vaccinations. However, the law offers exemptions. As a result, numbers are down.

"I can tell you, throughout the country the rates are dropping down. It's not just a local issue, it's not just a state issue. It's basically a national issue," Certified Board Pediatrician Dr. Rubina Azam said.

Florida is just under it's goal of 95%. Locally, Bay County's numbers are higher. Cathy Soto, of the Department of Health, stated Bay County's rates are closer to 99%.

"Sometimes parents come up with a split-vaccine schedule or an alternate vaccine schedule. We're open to that, and in the end, parents that are totally against vaccinations, do end up getting vaccinated," said Dr. Azam.

Although numbers are better locally, many parents in the area still have concerns about getting their children vaccinated.

"We see parents that choose not to [get their children vaccinated] because of the studies that have been done with the correlation of autism and vaccinations and how they may be connected," said Kuryn Patterson, the assistant director at Gulf Coast School for Autism.

Staff at Gulf Coast School for Autism see both sides of the issue every day.

"It's a controversial topic because studies have been done that show there is a correlation, and studies have been done that show there isn't a correlation," Patterson added.

More and more parents are delaying or opting for fewer shots. Health officials have concerns about this changing trend.

"As pediatricians, we need to educate them. We need to talk to them. We need to understand their point of view and understand what their fears are," said Dr. Azam.

The Health Department recommends schools should not allow students from other states or countries to attend until they provide a valid Florida-issued immunization record.