A new study finds vaccination rates in Arizona have been in steady decline leading to increased community vulnerability for vaccine-preventable outbreaks.
While some children are unable to be vaccinated due to medical exemptions such as compromised immune systems, that does not tell the whole story. Currently, 18 states, including Arizona, permit philosophical exemptions from immunizations leading to “hotspots” with potential for major outbreaks, according to the Public Library of Science’s analysis.
Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa County, has been identified by the researchers as one of 15 urban areas where a significant proportion of schoolchildren remain unvaccinated due to non-medical exemptions. According to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, 5.4 percent of students, namely kindergartners and sixth graders, received non-medical exemptions in 2017.
The ADHS recommends a 95 percent vaccination rate among schoolchildren to ensure herd immunity, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the optimal proportion of immunized people to decrease the likelihood of population outbreaks. Children with medical exemptions depend on this herd immunity to keep them safe from vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, mumps and rubella.
Unfortunately, Arizona has fell below this herd immunity threshold, which medical professionals state will cause avoidable disease to spread more effectively throughout county schools.
Should an outbreak occur, it would cause massive losses for vulnerable students. Maricopa officials recommend for unvaccinated children to be kept out of school for a minimum of 21 days in the event of an outbreak.
While Maricopa County may be a geographic “hotspot” now, PLOS researchers hope that won’t always be the case. They are working on public health education campaigns to increase both awareness and overall vaccination rates in communities most vulnerable to outbreaks: something, they conclude, is of upmost importance.
However, the researchers are sure to find some pushback from the persistent anti-vaccine crowd. A recent poll conducted by Research America found that 6 percent of respondents did not believe vaccines were important to the health of society. This sentiment, however, is not a new one.
The anti-vaccine movement dates back to a 1998 study published in the British journal The Lancet by Dr. Richard Horton linking vaccines to autism. Twelve years later, the paper was retracted after it was found to use fraudulent, unethical practices by a General Medical Council investigation. Dr. Horton was later stripped of his medical license due to his professional misconduct by the same investigation.
Regardless of the movement’s origins, the PLOS researchers state the decrease in vaccination rates show no signs of slowing down. Should predictions hold true, 2018 will see further decline of herd immunity in Arizona communities.