Utah Doctors Concerned About Measles After Washington Outbreak
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As doctors in Washington try to get a measles outbreak under control, health professionals in Utah are concerned about vulnerabilities here. Statistics show more parents are choosing to exempt their kids from vaccinations, leaving the entire community more vulnerable to measles and other preventable diseases.
According to the 2018 Immunization Coverage Report from the Utah Department of Health, vaccination rates amongschool kids are headed in the wrong direction.
The immunization program manager said that’s a real problem that will only get worse for measles and other preventable diseases, unless parents get their children vaccinated.
“As a health department, we would like to take away exemptions,” said Rich Lakin. “What we’re seeing across the US, which we haven’t seen in a long time, we’re going to have more measles outbreaks because people are claiming more exemptions.”
That’s why the Utah Department of Health is urging all parents to make sure their kids have the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.
Dr. Tamara Sheffield, the Intermountain Healthcare Medical Director of Community Health and Prevention, agrees.
“We are very concerned whenever we see an outbreak,” said Sheffield, who said there’s no way to gauge whether the measles outbreak will hit Utah.
“Anybody who has measles is only one plane flight away from Salt Lake,” she said.
With a disease as contagious as measles, she said, that’s a real problem.
“Because there are fewer people who are vaccinated, there’s a higher likelihood that we could have an outbreak,” said Sheffield.
A measles outbreak today, she said, is a greater likelihood than five or 10 years ago because of the trend among some parents to exempt their kids from vaccinations. Utah allows parents to exempt their school-age children from vaccinations for medical, personal, or religious reasons.
Right now, about 5.5% of the children in Utah schools are not vaccinated, up a half percent in one year. That means less than 95% of the population is vaccinated.
“You have to have about 95 to 97% of everybody immune to the disease to keep it from breaking out,” said Sheffield.
In Utah, those rates are going the wrong direction, making more kids vulnerable, according to Lakin. Across the country, he said, more parents are exempting their kids from vaccines.
“You are on the borderline for measles spreading rapidly,” he said. “Parents need to realize that since these diseases aren’t out there it’s because of vaccinations. If those exemptions increase, we will start seeing an increase in outbreaks.”
The best advice from a doctor?
“We all really have the responsibility to get the vaccine because there are people who cannot get the vaccine,” said Sheffield.
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