Growing Number of Arkansans Opt Out of Vaccinations

LITTLE ROCK, AR–Arkansas health officials are now calling the rate of parents refusing to vaccinate their kids, alarming.

The state has dropped below recommended vaccination levels.

Right now the CDC is watching a major measles outbreak that started in California. At last count there are more than a hundred measles cases in 14 states and the CDC reports most of the infected people were not vaccinated.

Doctors say it’s important that 90 percent of the population is vaccinated to lower overall risk. Right now, state records show Arkansas is below that with 86 percent of kindergartners having received the MMR vaccine.

Chad Warren admits the choice to get his son Parker vaccinated wasn’t simple.

“I think making a personal choice is just as important to public safety as being free from disease,” says Warren.

Dr. Jose Romero has a prepared answer, ready for any parent who’s waffling.

“I can’t prevent them from being drunk and driving in the car, I can’t prevent cancer for the most part, I can prevent a number of infectious diseases,” he says.

Dr. Romero is the section chief in the infectious disease division at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. He says he had measles when he was a baby.

“I was sick, I had a fever. I was miserable. I have no memory,” he says.

But Dr. Romero easily recalls the serious conditions of children he’s treated and worries parents are putting their children at risk for the wrong reasons.

“They are still carrying misinformation about the safety of vaccines and association with autism. We now know the author of those studies was morally bankrupt,” he says.

Still, the state allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for three reasons. Medical, religious and as of 2003 philosophical concerns. Since allowing the philosophical exemption the rate of parents opting out has continued rising.

If you combine all three exemptions in 2003–2004 school year. There were 764 kids exempt. This year, more than 6000 are exempt.

Dr. Romero says if the trend continues, “What we worry about is outbreaks of pertussis, whooping cough, measles we’ll start to seeing cases of tetanus.”

Before that happens, Dr. Romero and Warren hope people will learn to let the facts drive their decision-making, not fear.

The majority of people opting out of vaccinating their children are doing so under the philosophical exemption. This year that is more than 4000 Arkansas children.

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