Researchers: Maricopa County’s low vaccination rates could put larger population at risk

PHOENIX – A recent study identified Phoenix as a “hotspot” for potential disease outbreak because of the high rate of parents who opt out of vaccinating their children.

Arizona is one of 18 states that allow exemptions from vaccination because of personal beliefs, according to the study published in the Public Library of Science. Many Arizona parents seek medical exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons.

In Maricopa County, nearly 3,000 enrolling kindergartners had non-medical exemptions from vaccination in the 2016-17 school year, according to the study. That’s three times as many unvaccinated kindergartners as the next-highest county, Salt Lake County in Utah.

The report’s authors said that because these hotspots have such a high rate of vaccination exemptions, outbreaks could “spread rapidly throughout these populations of unimmunized, unprotected children.”

Laura Glenn, a naturopathic physician at Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics in Scottsdale, said some parents might get confused about vaccines.

“I really think that part of that is because we are living in an age of information overload,” she said. “We have so much news and so much information coming at us from so many different angles, it can be hard to know what to believe.”

In 1998, The Lancet medical journal published a study linking certain vaccinations to autism, triggering the anti-vaccination movement. The study was later retracted after it was found the doctor who led the study falsified the data and his claims were fraudulent, according to CNN.

Glenn said she believes information is key when it comes to the decision whether parents should vaccinate their children.

“To make an informed decision, they need to be looking vaccine-to-vaccine, illness-to-illness,” she said. Parents should ask “what are the risks to contracting the illness? What are the possible consequences of the child getting the illness? What are the risks of the vaccine?”

Alexandra Bhatti, faculty associate in Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, told ASU Now that “before the middle of the last century, diseases like whooping cough, polio, measles, Haemophilus influenzae and rubella struck hundreds of thousands of infants, children and adults in the United States. Thousands died every year from them.”

But as people began using vaccines for these diseases, their rates declined.

However, outbreaks still occur – even when vaccines are readily available.

A measles outbreak hit Maricopa and Pinal counties in 2016, infecting about a dozen people. The outbreak – one of the largest outbreaks in years – started at a privately run detention center in Eloy, according to a Cronkite News article.

The potential spread of illness is not the only result of non-vaccination.

“You also have the effect on the health-care system,” said Daniel Crawford, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. “And so that utilizes more health-care resources and increases the amount of money spent in the community.”

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