This historic 1962 image, depicted an aerial view of a long line of people, who were awaiting their polio vaccination. The line was so long, that it surrounded a city auditorium in San Antonio, Texas.
This historic 1962 image depicted an aerial view of a long line of people who were awaiting their polio vaccination. The line was so long, that it surrounded a city auditorium in San Antonio, Texas. 
Image courtesy: CDC Public Health Images Library

Staying up to date on routine vaccinations protects you and our community

"I don't really remember life before having polio. Just the recovery and the hospital and the surgeries and routine doctor appointments,” said Wanda Crotts, who was diagnosed with polio as a 14 month old in August 1953, in a living history interview.  “Everybody was gripped with fear. They didn't know what caused it. They didn't know where it came from, when it might strike you.”

Many of us are too young to remember a time where polio spread through communities but that might be changing.  On July 21, the New York Department of Health announced an unvaccinated young person was diagnosed with polio, the first case in the U.S. in nearly a decade. On August 4, they shared seven wastewater samples from two counties in New York tested positive for the poliovirus. Their release says, “These findings provide further evidence of local—not international—transmission of a polio virus that can cause paralysis and potential community spread…” They strongly urge anyone unvaccinated to get immunized as soon as possible.

Why are we seeing outbreaks of once eradicated diseases, like polio, measles, or mumps? Experts say even small dips in our vaccination rates can allow diseases to spread like wildfire. “Not only do delayed or missed vaccines leave children vulnerable to illness, but when vaccination rates fall even just a little, vaccine-preventable diseases can spread easily,” says Dr. Levine, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Health.

Routine vaccination rates among children are dropping across Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports that during the 2021-2022 school year, out of 890,055 students, nearly 790,000 met the minimum immunization requirements. That’s nearly 89% of students, and a more than 3% point decrease from the previous school year. Waivers are also increasing. They report:

  • The percentage of students with a waiver (personal conviction, religious, or medical) for one or more immunizations increased from nearly 2% during the 1997–98 school year to nearly 5% during the 2021–22 school year. That amounts to nearly 41,000 students in Wisconsin.
  • The percentage of students with religious and medical waivers have remained relatively constant, but percentage of students with a personal conviction waiver increased from a little over 1% during the 1997–98 school year to more than 4% during 2021–22. That’s just over 40,000 students in Wisconsin.

Here in Dane County, vaccination rates tend to be a bit higher than the state average but have also dipped in recent years.

We have access to protection from truly devastating diseases that cause incalculable suffering—diseases that claimed the lives of millions. Thanks to vaccines, we haven’t had to think much about polio or other diseases of the past that left parents living in complete fear. Imagine telling a parent in the 1940s that we have an effective, safe, and free vaccine to protect against polio but not everyone gets it. We can’t forget just how lucky we are to live in a day and age where we can prevent severe illness from over a dozen diseases with routine, childhood vaccinations.

The good news is you can get caught up! Talk to your child’s pediatrician about which vaccines your child needs. You can also log in to the Wisconsin Immunization Registry, which will tell you which vaccinations you’re due for based on age and prior immunizations. Don't forget you can also get your COVID-19 vaccination or booster dose at the same time as other routine vaccinations.

Let’s not go back to a time where preventable diseases spread through our schools, homes, and communities. Book an appointment today to get your child caught up on vaccinations before heading back to school. 

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.