Medical Officials Concerned Over Low Vaccination Rates

Full Audio: 20130625Vaccination

In April of this year, the State of Alaska Division of Epidemiology released the results of a survey of mothers of 3-year-old children conducted between 2009 and 2011.  It showed that the rate of mothers that delayed or refused one or more recommended childhood vaccinations increased about nine percent over the survey period.  A 2011 national survey ranked Alaska 39th in the United States for immunization of children under three years old.

The survey is based on the Center for Disease Control’s (C-D-C) recommended schedule for timing of vaccines.  The survey cited the most common reasons for not vaccinating according to the schedule as: a belief that too many shots are given at once, that some shots are given too early, and that some vaccines do more harm than good.

I spoke with Dr. Joe McLaughlin, State Epidemiologist, who says that much of the fear over vaccines began with the belief that vaccination contributes to autism.

“This is a groundless claim, and it actually arose from a spurious study that involved twelve children.  And this article was actually dismissed shortly after it was published, and it was called ‘irresponsible and dishonest.’  And the article’s lead author had his medical license revoked in Great Britain as a result of publishing this article.”

Dr. McLaughlin explains that recent studies also show that the number of vaccines given do not pose a risk to a child’s health.

“Fortunately, a recent study that was published in the journal Pediatrics looked at the risk of too many vaccines overwhelming the child’s immune system, and what the researchers found is that multiple vaccines do not overwhelm, weaken, or use up the children’s immune system.”

The survey shows that the Anchorage-Mat-Su region has what it calls a “vaccine hesitancy” rate of about 26%.  In the upper Susitna Valley, however, numbers suggest that the rate may be significantly higher.  I spoke to Dr. Mary Loeb, Medical Director at the Sunshine Community Health Center, who says that six to ten percent of parents in the area do not vaccinate at all, but that approximately five percent of children under two receive all of their vaccines as recommended by the CDC.  She also describes fears of side-effects, but says trust also plays a key role.

“The other aspect, I think, that we really saw was a lack of trust.  People were fearful of vaccines.  They’re fearful of the companies that produce the vaccines and government, so there’s a real trust issue, I think, that is at the heart of the hesitancy to vaccinate. So, I think we need”

Dr. Loeb says that not vaccinating carries inherent risks both for the individual child as well as the community, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated, or who cannot be vaccinated due to other conditions, and that the low vaccination percentages could open the door for an outbreak.

“It’s important that we make the best possible decision for our children and our community, and also that, as parents and a community, that were prepared for the possible consequences of those decisions, and that we have a plan.  So, again if parents choose not to vaccinate that they understand the risks, and that if we continue to have large number of children and adults who choose not to vaccinate, that we have a plan for how are we going to handle it if we do have an epidemic in our community.  And I think the most important thing is that we keep the lines of communication open, that we continue to talk about these issues, so that we all know where each other are coming from and we can make the best plan possible for everyone.”

In the end, Dr. Loeb says that delayed or refused vaccinations do not make someone a bad parent, but that it’s best when decisions regarding vaccinations made with information from a medical professional.

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