Children aren’t the only ones afraid of shots.
Idaho is seeing a slow trend of parents refusing to let their children receive school immunizations. Last year, 253 children in the South Central Public Health District were exempted from school immunizations. While this is barely 3 percent of students enrolled in grades K-7 throughout south-central Idaho, school exemptions have increased more than 62 percent since 2005. In that same time, enrollment in those grades rose 11 percent.
“I think the trend is just starting here,” said MaryBelle Anderson, nurse manager for the SCPHD Jerome office. “It’s been a pretty significant trend in California and Arizona and now it’s impacting us.”
While most schools will start next week, the total number of exemptions filed for this year will not be collected until Oct. 1.
Exempted children also make up about 3 percent of the school population statewide, said Tom Shanahan, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman. It’s still enough to concern health officials.
“Overall, the number has been fairly stable but even though we may not see a lot of mumps, it’s all a plane ride away,” he said. “Those traveling can bring it back. There’s that concern for the children that aren’t protected.”
Health and Welfare allows exemptions under three conditions: medical, religious and personal. In the Magic Valley and across the state, personal beliefs are the leading reason cited.
However, while exemptions are increasing, Idaho has improved its immunization rate over the years. Idaho ranks 42nd in the nation with a 62 percent immunization rate for children under 3 years old. In 2008, Idaho ranked 49th among states.
When pockets of a community refuse to vaccinate their children, it increases the chances of disease outbreaks, said Diane Peterson, associate director for the Immunization Action Coalition.
Diseases are still a threat to any population, she said. Cases of measles and whooping cough are on the rise in the Northwest. Without vaccinations, more children are more likely to get sick.
“It’s a situation where we’re victims of our own success,” Peterson said. “We’ve been able to reduce the numbers of diseases like polio, but young parents can’t see how important that is so they question the need for the vaccine.”