Veronica Graff

Friday, April 12, 2019

AZDHS: Drop in vaccination rates puts Arizona at risk of outbreak

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Health Services issued a report on Friday warning that higher exemptions from vaccines are putting the state at risk this year for an outbreak of preventable diseases like measles and mumps.

Immunization information is reported for three grade levels of children, but according to the health department the kindergarten measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) coverage rate is used to indicate how protected an area is from those diseases. Officials consider the general threshold of immunity for such preventable diseases as 95 percent in a community, providing herd immunity from the spread of a disease.

“When we see coverage dipping below 95 percent for that vaccine, we know that Arizona is at a risk for measles outbreak specifically, and that certainly is one of the most severe diseases that we track,” said Jessica Rigler, assistant director for public health preparedness for the health services agency.

The MMR kindergarten immunization rate fell to 93 percent this year. In northern counties with historically high personal exemption numbers, that rate is much lower. Only 83 percent of kindergarteners are vaccinated for MMR in Yavapai County, according to health services data.

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It is unclear why personal exemptions are significantly higher in central and northern counties, according to Rigler, but she says there is a trend for certain demographics to not vaccinate children.

“We know that these are individuals with a typically higher education level, higher socioeconomic status, so there is sort of an income-education association,” she said.

Counties at the border have much higher immunization rates, all over the 95 percent threshold.

Arizona is one of 17 states allowing personal exemptions to vaccinations. Vaccines are mandatory for students in preschool, kindergarten, and sixth grade unless a doctor exempts them due to medical reasons or a parent exempts them because of personal, philosophical or moral objections.

Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association, says that vaccination rates are becoming worrisome.

“I just don’t see any other alternative than to get rid of the personal exemption,” he said.

ADHS reports 60 percent of counties in Arizona are now at risk for a measles outbreak. Only four out of ten kindergartens are above the necessary threshold to be considered immune.

Measles is considered to be eradicated from the U.S., classifying it as an imported disease. People who get the disease often get it from visitors who have traveled here from other countries or from travelling internationally.

Measles is highly contagious, with 1 in 4 people hospitalized , according to a New York state study.

“If you are in a room of ten people who are unvaccinated against measles and someone with measles walks in, nine of those ten people are going to get sick,” Rigler said.

This year, 17 cases of mumps and one case of measles have been confirmed in the state, according to the health department.

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