By ANNA C. DRAGSBAEK
Oct. 1, 2010, 7:48PM
The Texas Legislature is confronted with an unprecedented budget shortfall, possibly as much as $20 billion, according to some estimates. In preparation for the Legislature’s return in January 2011, all state agencies were asked to trim their budgets by 10 percent.
As agencies release their budget cuts this fall, the magnitude of the shortfall will become apparent. The impact on Texas will be huge, and the cost to public health will be staggering. In order to comply with the mandated cuts, the Department of State Health Services has been forced to cut vaccinations for more than 100,000 disadvantaged children per year.
Eliminating immunizations for tens of thousands of children is a public health disaster waiting to happen. Vaccinations are an invisible investment that prevents debilitating diseases from ever happening. Texans who benefit from immunizations often never know how bad things could have been without those immunizations.
There is a greater risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in communities with low immunization rates. Vaccine preventable diseases will increase if Texas cuts immunization funding.
Many more people will become ill and some of them will die unnecessarily. Let’s not forget that children need to show proof of vaccination to enter school. Consider the hardship parents face if they cannot afford the immunizations, and their children are prevented from entering school as a result.
The threat is very real. The Immunization Partnership conducted 10 town hall meetings in communities across Texas in the summer of 2010. At each of these meetings, concerned local citizens warned that vaccine preventable disease is on the rise in Texas.
For example, the statewide incidence of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, more than tripled between 2006 and 2009. Some communities with historically lower immunization rates have seen pertussis incidence rates increase by more than eight times. Widespread use of the pertussis vaccine could save us millions of dollars in treatment costs for the 3,358 cases that were diagnosed in Texas last year. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable in our communities are babies under the age of six months who are too young to be fully immunized and have the highest death rate from pertussis.