The number of Arizona parents choosing to not have their children vaccinated is increasing.
Back in 2003, only 1.6 percent of kindergartners weren't vaccinated due to a personal-belief or religious exemption. As of last school year, a decade later, that rate more than doubled, to 3.9 percent.
It's a good time to point this out, as just recently, an unknown number of people were exposed to measles in the Phoenix area.
Arizona Department of Health Services director Will Humble wrote a blog post pointing out that connection, and provided documentation on what the department's been doing to combat the rise in vaccine exemptions.
The department actually had the University of Arizona's College of Public Health study the rise, which included researchers hosting town hall meetings with parents to find out why they're skipping out on vaccines:
Fear of autism or other side effects, dislike of too many vaccines, perceived potential vaccine contaminants, perceived lack of vaccine effectiveness, and lack of trust of manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, government, and physicians. 62% of exempting parents knew someone who had a severe reaction to a vaccine dose.
Physicians statewide also told the researchers that a fear of autism or other long-term consequences were the main reasons they've heard from parents who don't allow their children to be immunized.
(FYI, the American Academy of Pediatrics has prepared a document with about 40 or so medical studies finding zero relation between vaccines in autism.)
According to a summary of the study, "Schools where mostly white students attended, those with fewer students who use free and reduced lunch, and charter schools were more likely to have high exemption rates."
As of last school year, the rate of exemption was 4.3 percent in Maricopa County. The highest was in Yavapai County, at 7.5 percent. Yavapai County has had the highest rate of exemptions for several years now.
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Meanwhile, the state health department has taken several actions to try to increase vaccination rates, including things like listing symptoms of the vaccine-preventable disease on the religious exemption forms, having lectures for parents in high-exemption areas, and training for healthcare professionals to give them advice on communicating to people who are hesitant about vaccines.
As far as the measles case is concerned, the county health department says it can take up to 21 days after exposure for someone to show symptoms, which means it'll be about another week until officials know if measles was spread. State health department statistics show that more than 97 percent of sixth- and tenth-graders last year in Maricopa County were vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella, while 94 percent of kindergartners were.
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