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1 in 6 toddlers aren't up to date on vaccines. With school ahead, experts are concerned.

A woman applies a band-aid to elementary-school aged boy's shoulder.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A child gets a band-aid after receiving a COVID vaccine in 2021.

Local health experts are urging families to get their kids’ vaccinations up-to-date ahead of the new school year, citing a continued lag in standard childhood vaccinations following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Texas, students entering kindergarten at public schools are required to have up-to-date vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and Hepatitis A. More vaccinations are required as students progress through middle and high school.

However, a July study by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that one out of every six toddlers have started, but not completed, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s standard childhood vaccination series, which protects against a range of diseases, from polio to chickenpox. Another 10% of toddlers had not started the series.

Dr. Alefiyah Malbari, a pediatrician at Dell Children’s Medical Center, has noticed this trend among her own patients. She largely credits it to families having access to fewer routine appointments during the pandemic, which are often when kids get vaccinated.

“[When] parents lost physical access to their doctors, they also lost access to ask these really important questions about vaccines,” Malbari said. “There are a good number of families that over this period of time have not been able to ask a trusted source in the health care environment about their questions about vaccines, and so have developed perhaps some degree of discomfort.”

Now that many families have resumed routine doctor’s appointments for their young kids, Malbari said she is hearing a lot of questions about vaccines from parents, who want to know whether they are safe and effective. Some have also encountered misinformation about vaccines. But she said she doesn’t mind fielding questions, and finds that most parents are receptive to the facts she provides them.

“I completely understand that you're concerned about X,” Malbari said she tells her patients. “Do you remember where you learned that information, so we can kind of tackle it together? We actually have really credible sources for you to look through so you can make informed decisions.”

Malbari said getting required immunizations, along with other recommended vaccines like those available for COVID-19 and influenza, is especially important as children enter school or group child care environments where illnesses can spread easily.

“[In] pockets of communities that are undervaccinated, we are now starting to see diseases that were initially vaccine preventable, such as measles cases,” she said. “The more kids that are vaccinated, the less likely it is that we will see spots of those diseases.”

With the 2023-2024 school year just around the corner — Austin ISD students head back to class on Aug. 14 — Austin Public Health is likewise encouraging families to get caught up on vaccines. The agency offers free and low-cost immunizations for kids who are uninsured or receive Medicaid by appointment at its “Shots for Tots” clinics.

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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