Worth a shot
Yuma-area children are among the most vaccinated in Arizona, with all but a few immunized against potentially devastating diseases that badly sickened, crippled or even killed just a few generations ago.
Leigh Anne Howell, nursing supervisor at the Yuma County health department, said the basis of vaccines is to not see these vaccine-preventable diseases -- such as measles, polio and whooping cough -- and to create a herd immunity that can also protect children who cannot be vaccinated because of immune system problems.
Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director for the immunization program office at Arizona Department of Health Services, said vaccinated children are good disease control for all. Children, with their less mature immune systems, also have a tendency to be less careful with their hygiene.
“Vaccinations have been one of the best public health interventions in the past century,” she said.
Although vaccinations are strongly encouraged for enrollment in school and day care, parents can seek exemptions for broadly defined personal reasons. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, up to 3.6 percent of children were not vaccinated last school year because they had a personal exemption-- and in some counties, roughly one in 10 children were unvaccinated because of personal preference. (A smaller amount had a medical exemption.)
But in Yuma, less than half a percent use personal conviction to skip vaccines.
Howell said Yuma is home to immigrants from countries where vaccine-preventable diseases are still common, so they appreciate the opportunity to get the shots.
Lewis agreed. She said parents have the right to refuse vaccines, “but the rest of us have the right not to get vaccine-preventable diseases” and there needs to be a balance of rights. She encouraged skeptical parents to look at the scientific facts.
“The diseases don't care what your personal belief is,” she said.
She also encouraged shots for adults, especially if they will be around infants too young to be immunized.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, now has a booster for adults, teens and expectant mothers whose immunity has likely worn off from the highly contagious respiratory disease. The booster, known as the Tdap, also includes the tetanus and diphtheria immunizations that came with the original shot (the children's version is known as the DTaP -- same immunizations, but in different concentrations).
Lewis also endorses seasonal flu shots.
“If you have an infant in the home it's very worth the money” to get both shots, she said.
Personal exemptions for childhood exemptions, 2011-2012 school year
AGE GROUP/YUMA CO./ARIZONA
Child care (1.5-5 yrs of age)/0.3%/3.4% (highest: Yavapai, 9.6%)
Kindergarten/0.3%/3.4% (highest: Greenlee, 11.1%)
6th grade/0.1%/3.6% (highest: Coconino, 11.6%)
10th grade/0.2%/2.8% (highest: Yavapai, 11.4%)
Immunizations include DTap, Polio, MMR, Hib disease, Hep A and Hep B, and chicken pox (or history of the disease)
SOURCE: Arizona Department of Health Services