Report: 23% of Miami-Dade kindergartners lack immunizations
MIAMI - More than 23 percent of kindergartners in Miami-Dade County lacked complete immunizations in the previous school year, the highest percentage of Florida's 67 counties. That's according to a report in The Miami Herald on Sunday that also noted that kids without the required vaccinations are allowed to go to class under a provisional status. The newspaper reported that in Miami-Dade, only 76.7 percent of kindergartners had complete immunizations in 2010-11. In Broward, the percentage was 92.9 percent; in Palm Beach it was 90.4 percent, and in Monroe County, 93.6 percent. Statewide, 91.1 percent of public school children began kindergarten in the last school year with complete immunizations. Officials in Miami-Dade are concerned that the low rate puts students and their communities at higher risk of catching measles, mumps and whooping cough. And, they are aware that the numbers have worsened significantly from just five years ago, when 92.8 percent of kindergarteners in Miami-Dade schools had their immunizations completed."We're not dismissing this," said Lillian Rivera, administrator with the Miami-Dade County Health Department. "We're worried about it." There have been 156 cases of measles so far this year in the U.S., the most since 1997. Most of the cases involved unvaccinated children. Florida has had seven measles cases — all in unvaccinated kids. On March 7, Dr. Shairi Turner, deputy secretary for health of the Florida Department of Health, sent a memo to all county health departments asking for action to "decrease the occurrence of vaccine-preventable diseases by increasing immunization coverage levels among school-age children." The goal for kindergartens, she reminded them, is "at least 95 percent. To be able to attend school in Florida, a child is expected to show proof of a series of vaccinations or an acceptable exemption. A small portion of those unvaccinated are given permanent exemptions on religious grounds, or because of allergies or because they have a weakened immune system. The rest are allowed in under temporary medical exemptions. Last year, 21.9 percent of Miami-Dade kindergarteners — more than one in five — had such an exemption, which students can get if they received the first dose of every required shot.