Putnam to Prioritize Immunizations

Polio vaccine rates lowest in Cold Spring, Garrison

Putnam County has identified the boosting of early childhood immunization rates as a priority amid data showing that they “significantly worsened” during the first year of the pandemic and evidence of increasing opposition by parents. 

In its newly released community health assessment and improvement plan, the Health Department said 62 percent of children between 24 and 35 months old had in 2020 received required vaccinations for chickenpox; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; measles, mumps and rubella; hepatitis B; haemophilus influenzae Type B; pneumonia; and polio. 

The rate represented a drop of nine percentage points from a year earlier, as the pandemic that emerged in 2020 disrupted the health care system and COVID-19 took precedence over routine medical appointments. 

But the immunization rates in Putnam County for 2017 and 2018 were even lower, at 60.3 and 59.7 percent, respectively, and the county’s lowest vaccine rates for polio, as of August, were in the Cold Spring/Philipstown (57.6 percent) and Garrison (59.3 percent) ZIP codes, according to state Department of Health data. (The polio vaccination rate in the Beacon ZIP code was 69.7 percent.) 

The state Department of Health began highlighting polio data in July, when an unvaccinated young adult living in Rockland County tested positive for the disease, setting off a statewide public-information campaign to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated. 

By the fall, the state was also urging parents to take countermeasures against an outbreak in cases of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, both of which arrived earlier and fiercer than in previous years. 

Putnam said it will work with pediatricians and other health care providers to improve immunization rates. 

“The past few years have tested and taught us all, but we have come together with renewed strength, and renewed commitment to reducing all health inequities among our residents,” said Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, the county health commissioner. 

While support for routine immunizations remains strong, attitudes against them rose on the heels of the backlash against COVID-19 vaccines, according to the results of a survey released in December by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

More than eight in 10 people (82 percent) surveyed in October 2019 agreed that vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella should be required for children in order to attend public schools, but just 71 percent said so in the newest survey. 

At the same time, the number is higher for those who believe that parents should have the right to forgo vaccinations for their school-age children, even if other kids are at risk — 28 percent in December compared to 16 percent in October 2019. 

Kaiser said that opposition was strongest among people who identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. The share of them opposing vaccine requirements for school rose to 44 percent from 20 percent in October 2019, according to the survey. Support among Democrats for an immunization requirement remained essentially unchanged. 

There are also regional differences. In a September 2021 report highlighting progress in immunizations, the New York State Health Foundation found that the lowest vaccination rates have consistently been found in two regions: the Lower Hudson Valley, which includes Dutchess and Putnam counties, and Long Island.

The Lower Hudson Valley occupied the bottom among regions in 2020, with just 54.2 percent of 2-year-olds having received their recommended vaccines. The statewide target is 70.5 percent. 

“Vaccines are the best way to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases like the measles outbreaks we’ve seen in recent years,” said David Sandman, the foundation’s president and CEO. “It’s critical that a large share of the population gets vaccinated.” 

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