Falling Vaccination Coverage Worries Public Health Officials

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Friday, July 6, 2018 - 5:57pm

For the second year in a row, the number of Arizona children claiming vaccination exemptions rose. Arizona law requires children to obtain certain immunizations, unless exempted by a doctor for medical reasons or by a parent for personal reasons.

“Its incredibly concerning to us when we see these decreases in vaccine coverage because that leaves people in our community, especially children, vulnerable to dangerous diseases,” said Jessica Ringler, branch chief for public health preparedness at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

A recent study showing Phoenix has more unvaccinated children than anywhere else in the U.S. compounded the anxieties. Public health officials are reaching out to schools and doctors to provide evidence-based information about vaccinations that counter inflammatory misinformation spread on social media.

“The most important thing for people to remember is that they should be checking evidence-based sources when they’re trying to get information about their health,” Ringler said.

The percent of children with vaccination exemptions rose in all age groups tracked by the department: child care, kindergarten and 6th grade. And the department found another interesting statistic.

“We have found over the years that charter schools have the highest rates of exemptions, about 9 percent this year, compared to about four percent in public schools,” Ringler said.

The department hasn’t yet studied why this discrepancy exists, but is encouraging all families to talk to their doctor about the importance of vaccines.

“Not everyone is able to be vaccinated due to other conditions like cancer and organ transplants,” she said. “So it's important for the rest of us to remain vaccinated so we can protect everyone in our community.”  

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