Childhood immunzations remain a hot-button issue across the country and here in Arizona, some new information is making news this week. The number of children receiving vaccinations in our state dropped in 2016 as exemption rates shot higher. The latest numbers from the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) show that after “two years of decreasing exemption rates, the percentage of students exempt from one or more vaccines rose across all age categories.”
Arizona law requires that all students attending school must receive certain vaccines unless exempted for medical or personal reasons. Schools are required to get immunization records from all their students and pass on anonymous versions to the department.
The department called this rise in exemptions “concerning.”
According to the DHS website, vaccine exemptions rose to 3.9 percent from 3.5 percent for youngsters in child care, to 4.9 percent from 4.5 percent for children in kindergarten and to 5.1 percent from 4.4 percent for children in 6th grade.
Exemptions on the grounds of personal beliefs are allowed for K-12 students, according to the statement on the department website. Exemptions on the grounds of religious beliefs only are allowed for youngsters in child care.
According to KTAR-News in Phoenix, “state health care officials are warning parents not to take that route (immunization exemptions) for the safety of their children.”
“Anytime we see an increase in vaccine exemptions, we are concerned because it indicates that we’re having more students in the state that are not protected against these dangerous, vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Jessica Rigler with the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Immunizations and vaccinations don’t only protect the child from these dangerous diseases, they “also help to protect the community at large,” Rigler said.
However, the Arizona Capitol Times quoted Jessica Rigler as saying “the state still has a “pretty good” vaccine coverage level and is near herd immunity, which means a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated that an outbreak can be prevented.”
The AZDHS says in the coming months it will be enhancing the education it provides to parents “about vaccines and their importance to children and our communities.”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on these latest numbers and whether you believe the rise in exemptions will continue in our state. If you do, let us know why. Generating meaningful dialogue around the health issues making headlines is another way we are working toward our lng-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!