Arizona children, ages 19 to 35 months, are “severely lagging behind” the federal recommendation to have 90 percent of them up to date on their immunizations, according to a report from the Arizona chapter of March of Dimes.
Arizona’s immunization rate is 76.4 percent, according to the March of Dimes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the 90 percent immunization rate.
“It is a critical public health issue that all children get vaccinated, as it affects not only them but the entire population,” said Diane Zipley, state director of programs and public affairs for the Arizona chapter of the health charity group. “Serious diseases that were previously thought to be eradicated in the United States including measles are returning due to low vaccination rates. Arizona must catch up for the good of our children and the communities they live in.”
The report states more than 30 percent of young children are under-immunized.
In 2000, the CDC set the Health People 2010 objectives for 90 percent immunization.
The recommended vaccines for ages 19 months to 35 months are: four doses of DTap (Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine), three doses of polio, one dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), three doses of Hib (haemophilus influenzae type b), three doses of Hep B (hepatitis B) and one dose of varicella (chicken pox disease). Combined, it is known as 4:3:1:3:3:1 on the CDC website.
Since 2000, more Arizona kids have been getting the recommended vaccines, though the state has not met the 90 percent goal, said Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director of the Arizona Department of Health Services Immunization Program. In 2001, the rate was 50.4 percent.
Arizona is above the national average in some areas, including children having the recommended doses of DTap, polio, Hep B, and Hep A (hepatitis A).
But there are obstacles keeping families from getting their shots, Lewis said. Because there are so many vaccines, sometimes parents find it hard to pay for them all or just keep up with the shot records, she said.
School-age children in Arizona are required to have a set number of vaccines prior to the first day of school. Schools can help students transferring from another state get shot records. Some school districts refer families to local clinics. The Chandler Unified School District allows families to sign permission slips for school nurses to administer vaccines.
The law does allow exemptions for “medical reasons, laboratory evidence of immunity and personal beliefs.”
If a family signs a waiver, and a communicable disease is making the rounds on a campus, the school can ask the parents to keep their child at home, said Kathy Bareiss, spokeswoman for the Mesa Unified School District.
“I’m not aware that that’s happened in my six years here,” Bareiss said.
But there has been an increase in the number of exemptions requested throughout the state, Lewis said.
Ten years ago, that number was 1 percent to 1.5 percent of children entering childcare, kindergarten or sixth grade.
In the 2009-10 school year, 2.6 percent of families in childcare requested an exemption, while 2.8 percent of kindergarten families did the same and 3.2 percent of families with a sixth grader, Lewis said.
Those numbers may vary by region, as well.
“The more you have exemptions, the increased risk you have that you can spread disease. There are pockets and individual schools where the percentage is much higher,” Lewis said. “Throughout the country there are geographically clustered areas where parents don’t want vaccines. Sometimes you can get 7 percent to 10 percent of kids in a school not having vaccine. Then you get one case of whopping cough or one case of measles and it spreads terribly.”
Lewis pointed to the outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) in California, which recommends but does not require the vaccine for all its children.
“With us controlling diseases, most people don’t feel threatened as much,” Lewis said. “Most diseases have decreased 99 percent with vaccines. ... We need to get the message out: diseases are out there. To protect the individual and the public we need to keep on vaccinating and doing what we’re doing.”