NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In recent days, the debate over vaccinations has intensified following revelation of a life-threatening experience suffered by a non-vaccinated Oregon boy, prompting a Louisiana senator to push back against anti-vaccination forces.
The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report on the boy, who contracted a tetanus infection and was hospitalized for weeks. Hospital bills were close to $1 million.
"It’s a bacterial infection that’s usually caused by a bacteria that gets into a wound,” said Dr. Fred Lopez, an LSU Health New Orleans infectious disease specialist.
Headlines about the tetanus infection that almost killed the boy grabbed the attention of members of Congress.
"And the child was in the hospital, consumed about $800,000 worth of health care, which the family is on the hook for because they didn’t take a $25 or even a free vaccine,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is also a medical doctor.
Dr. Lopez said tetanus infection is serious.
"It can bind to muscles and the nervous system and cause spasms and airway compromise, and as a result, patients can die from tetanus infection,” said Lopez.
Recently some physicians told members of Congress that there is a growing number of people who oppose vaccinations.
Cassidy said those who refuse vaccines should be aware of the risks.
"If a family doesn’t want to vaccinate their child, that’s okay, but we have to make sure they understand there’s consequences to that decision,” Cassidy stated.
"There are many people…who really are resistant to immunizing themselves and or their families, and again, this boy is very fortunate after eight weeks in a hospital to have survived,” said Lopez.
Maps from the La. Department of Health detail vaccination rates around the state.
They show that during the 2017-2018 school year vaccination rates for kindergartners in public schools in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. Charles, St. John, and St. Tammany were all over 90 percent.
However, the rate dropped off for sixth-graders in some areas during the same school year.
It was 80 percent in Orleans Parish and 87 percent in Jefferson, according to the LDH data.
"I think we do okay, but we’re not at 100 percent, which is what we’d like to be at,” said Lopez.
He also addressed a decades-old study which suggested an association between the measles vaccine and autism.
"That’s been since debunked, it’s been retracted,” said Lopez.
And medical professionals say reaching adulthood does not end the need for certain vaccinations beyond the flu vaccine. Dr. Lopez said patients should ask their physicians about them.
"To include tetanus boosters, you're supposed to receive those every 10 years as an adult, and a Tdap vaccine which is a special type of pertussis vaccine that an adult should have gotten if they hadn't gotten one previously, there's a shingles vaccine for adults who are 50 years or older that now is recommended,” said Dr. Lopez.
According to the Louisiana Education Department vaccinations against diseases like measles, mumps, and tetanus are required for students entering school for the first time and for sixth graders.
But parents and guardians can get waivers or immunization exemptions for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.