Colo. measles vaccine rate among lowest in U.S.
Last year, the United States saw more than 600 measles cases — the most since the disease was deemed eliminated in 2000. This year, 121 cases have been reported in an outbreak tied to Disneyland.
The outbreak has sparked national debate about immunizations, which are opposed by a small minority of parents, some of whom believe vaccinations cause autism, a concern that has been debunked.
While Colorado has reported only a handful of cases in recent months, it is tied with West Virginia and Ohio for the nation’s lowest vaccination rate against the disease, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Danielle Yost, immunization coordinator for Garfield County Public Health, said vaccines are safe and protect us against infectious disease.
“They’re our best chance of protecting ourselves,” Yost said.
Nationally, the MMR — measles, mumps and rubella — vaccination rate is down from 98 percent in 1983 to 91 percent in 2013, while the average country improved from 50 percent vaccination to 90 percent, according to World Health Organization data. Currently, more than 100 countries have better measles immunization rates than the United States.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommends vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella by the time a child is 15 months old, but CDC figures indicate that only 86 percent of Colorado children between 19 and 35 months had the shot in 2013.
Local school districts adhere to state policy in requiring the standard range of vaccinations for measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and other childhood diseases, but allow exemptions for health, religion or personal reasons.
As such, it’s mostly up to doctors to talk to parents about vaccinations.
“We of course encourage the standard vaccine schedule,” said Dr. David Brooks, of Pediatric Partners in Glenwood Springs. “The failure to maintain high levels of vaccinations will lead to the re-emergence of those diseases, and that’s been proven over and over again. To choose not to vaccinate is to choose to put not only your own child at risk, but to put others at risk.”
At-risk groups include infants too young for the vaccine as well as those with weak immune systems, such as patients suffering from cancer or HIV.
“These are people who are already suffering through a disease and surviving,” Brooks said.
Although more Americans currently die from the flu than from measles, Brooks sees it as a something worth keeping under control. Beyond the occasional fatal case, complications can include pneumonia, severe ear infections and brain damage.
Before the vaccination program began in 1963, the country had 3 million to 4 million measles cases a year, leading to around 48,000 hospitalizations and 400 to 500 deaths.
“It’s probably one of the most infectious diseases known to exist, so its risk of spread is tremendous, and it’s a disease that doesn’t have to be in the U.S. at all,” Brooks said.
He cited CDC statistics that indicate that two doses of MMR are 97 percent effective in preventing the disease, and generally decreases symptoms in those who do contract it.
Still, some people are hesitant.
“A lot of people decide not to vaccinate because they’ve heard something and they just don’t know what else to do. They’re really concerned about doing the right thing or best thing for their child,” Brooks said.
That can be hard to address.
“The fear that goes with vaccines is often a moving target,” Brooks said. “Once the myth gets debunked, then the goalpost gets moved.”
Historically, Brooks heard a lot about potential links to autism. Now, it’s more about specific chemicals, such as aluminum, included in the vaccine.
“A poison’s in the dose, not in the substance,” he said. “A formula-fed baby gets more aluminum in their formula than they get in a vaccine.”
Ultimately, Brooks believes that with education and outreach, the majority of parents will opt to vaccinate their children, but there remain a dedicated few who doubt the medical consensus.
Eaden Shantay, co-owner of True Nature in Carbondale, is one of them.
“I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have done a lot of research, and I’ve found them to be, for lack of a better word, dangerous,” he said.
Shantay cited the number of vaccine injuries that go before U.S. Court of Federal Claims every year, as well as statistics that suggest measles may already have been on the decline before vaccination. He also provided links to numerous scientific studies, and while the medical community regards many of them as inconclusive or outright erroneous, Shantay isn’t so sure the CDC’s information is any more reliable — particularly given the amount of money pharmaceutical companies make on vaccines.
“There has never been on any single vaccine a double-blind placebo test on vaccines,” he said. “I personally don’t feel that vaccines are safe or effective. I believe in natural immunity. I believe in breastfeeding. I believe in nutrition. I think Western medicine has incredible benefits, but don’t think it shines in terms of keeping people healthy.”
Shantay bemoaned the social stigma placed on parents who don’t vaccinate, dismissing the idea of herd immunity as propaganda.
“If people want to take vaccines, that should be their right, but if people don’t want to take them, that should be their right too,” he said.
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