Public health officials continue to worry about the number of children who are asking for exemptions from being immunized. In Arizona, the number of kindergartners and sixth-graders who opted out of being vaccinated has nearly tripled in the last 10 years.
Ken Alltucker, writing for The Arizona Republic, says that the rates for children at these grade levels rose during the 2013-2014 school year by 4.7%. This is up 3.9 percentage points from the previous school year, says the Arizona Department of Health Services. In 2004, the number was 1.6%.
Those parents who do not think the protection received from the vaccinations overrides the potential dangers must submit an exemption form to their school during registration. These exemption requests were highest at Arizona’s charter schools with 9% of kindergartners opting out, 7.5% at private schools, and 3.6% at public schools. For sixth-graders exemption rates at charter schools were 9.4%; 6.7% at private schools; and 3.7% at public schools.
“When you pull back the covers even on the public schools, you find the higher income the school, school district or the ZIP code, the higher the exemption rates are for the kids,” Will Humble, director of the Arizona Health Services Department said.
This shows, according to Humble, that parents choose not to immunize because of personal beliefs, skepticism, or misinformation. A report by a British doctor in the late 1990s linking the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism, has now been debunked, based on falsified data.
“Among certain demographic groups, people are still talking about autism even though study after study all point to the same direction, that there’s no association whatsoever,” Humble said.
The experts continue to warn of the risks involved for children who are not vaccinated, and refer to the “herd immunity” factor, which is the vaccination of at least 95% of children to create a barrier against outbreaks. Health department workers say that one case of measles is considered an “outbreak”.
Some very ill children, such as those with cancer, cannot be immunized, so, the danger of outbreaks is especially detrimental to them. The only solutions, says Elizabeth Jacobs, University of Arizona College of Public Health professor, is to change Arizona law so that opting out becomes more difficult.
Washington state now requires a doctor’s signature to opt out, and this has reduced its number of non-vaccinated children. Last year, a parental form required that Arizona parents read the risks involved in opting out, and understand that their child would be held out of school for three weeks if an outbreak occurred. The state health department and the University of Arizona have united in an effort to appeal to parents’ social responsibility.
“They look at the private risk but not the social responsibility,” Humble said. “When you don’t vaccinate your kids, you are putting all the kids in your classroom at risk. That is not socially conscious. That’s selfish.”