August is National Immunization Awareness Month. An annual observance held to highlight the importance of vaccinations for people of all ages. However, this year it feels a bit like an oxymoron, as certain high-income areas of the United States have vaccination rates on par with low-income countries around the world.
For example, until 2015 parents in California could elect to not vaccinate their children through what are called Non-medical Exemptions or Personal Belief Exemptions, whereby parents could be exempted from the traditional medical recommendations because of what they philosophically believe. Despite state-level changes, reports suggest parents in California are still opting at twice the rate as previous years from getting their children vaccinated. This has led to immunization rates in places like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills that are as low as the country of Chad and South Sudan.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “The number of philosophical exemptions to vaccination has increased in two-thirds of the states that allow such exemptions. As a result, researchers suggest that these areas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.”
What this means is that Measles outbreaks and Whooping Cough, long eradicated from the U.S., are back. Clearly signaling a public health crisis.
Why Are Vaccination Rates Low?
Many point to the anti-vaxx movement in the U.S. and around the world for declining vaccination rates. And parents within that movement often note autism as the reason for avoiding vaccines for their children. However, this is despite study after study around the world, as well as statements by the CDC, indicating that vaccinations have no impact on developing autism.
That said, vaccinations are not perfect, and they sometimes do result in side effects like muscle pain, headaches, and in very rare cases allergic reactions. All of which need to be properly addressed by the medical community.
But the anti-vaxx movement is not the only thing at play when it comes to declining rates of immunity in the US. For example, the number of vaccines recommended by the CDC’s schedule for children entering school, has nearly tripled in the last decade. What that means is that the number of vaccines – often monovalent – or single doses that children need has increased. Consequently, the number of visits for parents, the number of shots, and therefore the costs have also increased. All making it more difficult to complete that schedule.
At the same time, providing vaccinations doesn’t pay well. Despite myths about doctors making money to push immunization shots on patients, on the doctor side of the equation providers have very little incentive to make vaccines a priority for their medical practices.
All these factors in tandem mean that we find ourselves in a public health crisis as we enter National Immunization Awareness Month in 2019. And the only way to solve this crisis is to use local, state and federal solutions together. As well as ensure that educational campaigns inform parents about the risks of not vaccinating.
At the end of the day, we all have to come together to get vaccination rates in the United States above 90%, in which herd immunity can protect children.