National Immunization Awareness Month gives us a great opportunity to talk about the need to improve national immunization coverage levels.  Vaccine-preventable diseases are becoming increasingly rare in the US because vaccines are effective, but that doesn’t mean we should stop vaccinating.  Even though most infants and toddlers have received all recommended vaccines by age 2, there are still many under-immunized children, for various reasons.  There are also under-immunized adolescents and adults.  When a large portion of the community is under-immunized, there’s an increased risk of disease outbreaks.  A good example is the pertussis or whooping cough outbreak in Arizona this past year. Most of the cases are in children and a majority of them are unvaccinated or not up-to-date on their pertussis vaccine. 

Although coverage levels in Arizona  are pretty good, there’s an increasing trend in more parents opting out of vaccinating their children.  Earlier this year I highlighted some of the preliminary results from a U of A study focusing on vaccine choice.  The results of this study highlight that personal belief exemptions are on the rise in our state.  It’s hard to counter some arguments about why parents don’t vaccinate their children, but we can make sure parents know what they’re missing.  This summer, our immunization team revamped all the exemption forms.  The new forms have the parents acknowledge each vaccine they are skipping and initial that they understand the loss of protection for the child.  Parents can get the new exemption forms from their school or childcare provider. 

Rising exemptions puts the whole community at risk.  Herd immunity (vaccination of a significant portion in the community) helps keep the most vulnerable Arizonans (those who medically can’t receive vaccines) safe from debilitating and deadly diseases.  So this back to school season, let’s all do our best to encourage our friends and family to get up-to-date with the recommended vaccinations to keep everyone in our community safe from vaccine-preventable diseases!

The Departments of Economic Security and Health Services are partnering together in educating the public on the importance of making an informed decision when it involves vaccinating your children.  I invite you to view a similar blog by my agency counterpart, Economic Security Director Clarence Carter.