As families prepare for the school year to begin, immunizations are on the long list of things to take care of. In an attempt to highlight the importance of vaccinating against preventable diseases, districts are sending out this reminders to their students: No Shots/No School.

Immunization clinics have been popping up throughout the community to help shoulder the burden of cost and increase immunization levels in Bexar County. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has highlighted vaccine increases as a priority area of focus in its 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, with the goal of working toward “healthy people thriving in a healthy community.”

In a conversation with the Rivard Report, Metro Health Director Colleen Bridger said that while the City actively works to get people vaccinated throughout the year, efforts “become more robust” around the beginning of the school year.

“It’s really important for people to have a medical home for all of their kids’ medical needs,” Bridger said. “If they stick to the immunization schedule, that means they return to their medical home throughout the child’s growth and development. Not only does that protect the child from illnesses, it allows the pediatrician to see the child and [monitor growth].”

Vaccine-preventable diseases have a costly impact on society, resulting in doctor’s visits, missed time from school or work, hospitalizations, and premature deaths. Metro Health’s message to San Antonio is that it is important to get vaccinations for health, not for school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children stay on track with the vaccine schedule starting at birth, up to the age of 18. Some vaccines are recommended through adulthood.

The estimated vaccine coverage for the core series of childhood vaccines recommended by the CDC for children 19-35 months of age in 2014 was 66% in Bexar County, compared to 64% in Texas and 72% in the U.S., according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2015, the immunization rate in Bexar County rose to 67.5%.

While “No Shots/No School” is the message coming from school districts, Texas is one of 18 states that allows non-medical exemptions to the vaccines required for school attendance. Texas law allows for exemptions from immunizations for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs.

Some school districts are already back in session, but it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

Kenya Wilson, Metro Health’s immunization program manager, told the Rivard Report that “when you wait for the school to tell you that you need to get the vaccines to go back to school, you’re not protecting [your children’s] health.”

Wilson said that vaccines have fallen victim to their own success. Because people don’t often see cases of polio, measles, or pertussis they don’t often think about the necessity of vaccinations.

Metro Health’s immunization clinic is the only walk-in clinic for immunizations, and is still running full-force into the beginning of the school year, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. tho 3 p.m..

“If it’s paying rent versus paying for a vaccine, we understand,” Wilson said. Metro Health helps work around the cost barrier by offering immunizations at free or reduced rates for individuals in need. The immunization clinic even provides vaccines for adults in what Wilson called a “safety net program,” where adults are given the opportunity to catch up on the vaccines they may have missed.

Wilson told the Rivard Report that so far in August, the immunization clinic has administered more than 3,000 vaccinations to more than 1,300 patients.

Following the recommended vaccination schedule allows for maximum health protection, Wilson said.

“The important thing is not to wait – once your child is able to get [a vaccine], get it then,” she explained. “We need to make sure they are healthy and ready to go to school instead of just ready to go to school.”

For more information on vaccines and where to obtain them, click here.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.