A decreasing number of children being vaccinated concerns Arizona health officials.
The growing rates of childhood immunization exemptions are not due to religious beliefs or medical backgrounds, but the parents’ personal beliefs, according to the state Department of Health Services.
The exemption rates were more than twice as high in the 2012-2013 school year (3.9%) compared to 2003 (1.6%), according to AZDHS.
Public officials fear a comeback of the diseases that are not being vaccinated against.
Immunizations against measles and mumps are some of the shots parents are opting out of due to a perceived link to autism.
The concern was that children were developing autism spectrum disorders after getting certain vaccinations since they contained an active ingredient, known as thimerosal, used to preserve childhood vaccines.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that there was no relationship between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism rates in children.
Because of the parents opting out of these shots, measles has risen in numbers and has been at an all time high since 1994, according to AZDHS.
This May, there were 288 cases of measles and in June there were 539 cases. Of the children with measles, one out of 10 children get an ear infection and one out of 20 get pneumonia. For every 1,000 children that have measles, one or two will die, said the AZDHS.
“I don’t agree with getting my child immunized because their bodies are so little and it’s harder for them to adjust to those shots. I think they should get [their shots] when they’re a little bigger,” said Ashlyn Maye, a new parent who had her child vaccinated due to the persistence of her doctor.
Arizona requires those entering kindergarten to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox. In later grades they must receive boosters for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough as well as the vaccination against meningococcal disease.
The personal beliefs exemption allowed by the state requires parents to sign a form acknowledging that they understand the risks of not vaccinating .
The demographic of Arizonans not vaccinating their children are mostly white, high-income families, according to the Department of Health Services.
Others are not getting vaccinated because of transportation difficulties or lack of insurance. Some parents are choosing to opt out because of health concerns such as autism, said Will Humble, Arizona Department of Health Services director.
Of the states that are allowed to keep their children unvaccinated – Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, California, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin – the rate of exemptions are higher than the other states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Arizona health officials plan to increase the number of vaccinations within the next few years and encourage parents to vaccinate their children by educating them about the benefits.
“I’m all for it if it saves us from getting these awful diseases and afflictions,” said Stacie Lardieri, a mother of two who vaccinated her child with every vaccine available.
Casey Woollard is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org