Kindergartners In Yavapai County At Highest Risk For Measles

Published: Monday, February 2, 2015 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 7:56am
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Jim Goodson, M.P.H./Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
An infant with measles.

Kindergartners in Yavapai County are at higher risk for contracting measles compared to those living in other counties. That’s according to a 2013-2014 Department of Health report on Arizona’s school immunization coverage levels. 

The percentage of kindergartners who received both doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine, or the MMR, is just over 86 percent. That figure falls below the 94 percent threshold — the figure state health officials say is needed to maintain herd immunity — meaning the potential for a measles outbreak is higher.

Knowing this, why are more parents, especially in Yavapai County, forgoing vaccines?  

"People try to make what they think is the best choice for child. If you look online at the misinformation that is out there it is quite scary and it’s easy to see why, if somebody started going down that rabbit hole of misinformation, that they would be scared to vaccination child," said Kacey Ernst, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Arizona.

In 2012, Ernst and a colleague surveyed parents in Yavapai County, and what they found was striking.

"There are people who feel it’s OK, 'because I breastfeed my child so they’re protected because my antibodies are passed on,' and so we did hear that as well as 'breastfeeding is my option for 'vaccination,'" Ernst said.

David McAtee is with Yavapai County Community Health Services. His agency is aware that Yavapai County not only has relatively low coverage rates when it comes to diseases like measles, it also has a high rate of personal exemptions. Of the more than 1,700 kindergartners in that county, more than 11 percent have parents or guardians who signed personal belief exemption.

One reason is that some schools may make it a little too easy.

"We’ve noticed when we’re out there helping these schools check their kindergartners in, you know back-to-school day, that a lot of times, they’ll have that exemption form right on the desk," McAtee said.

McAtee said his agency is working to make vaccines more available, while educating parents and school employees about the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases.  

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