Aspen’s measles vaccination rate concerning

The measles, mumps and rubella immunization rate for children in Aspen-area schools is under the average necessary to prevent an outbreak, according to statistics and local public health officials.

And while no cases of the highly contagious diseases have been documented here, Pitkin County — like Colorado in general — has a significant number of parents filing “personal” vaccination exemptions for their children, which could set the stage for an outbreak, said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County public health director.

“What we always have to be aware of in Aspen (is that) we’re such an international destination,” she said. “It’s so much of a transient population coming in from all over the world to ski. It’s a unique microcosm.”

The MMR vaccine is controversial because it has been reportedly linked to autism. However, that link came from a study that was later debunked because it used false data, Koenemann said. Further studies have found no link between autism and the MMR vaccine, she said.

“The science is overwhelming to show that vaccinations save lives,” she said, “and the amount of lives they save is substantial.”

The MMR vaccination rate for all schools and child care facilities in Colorado for the 2017-18 school year was 94.5 percent, according to online statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. A rate of 95 percent is considered the minimum number to prevent an outbreak, Koenemann said.

For Aspen-area schools, that number for 2017-18 was 93.1 percent, according to statistics provided by Carlyn Porter, Pitkin County Department of Health epidemiologist. That MMR rate was up from 91.2 percent in the 2016-17 school year, she said.

Colorado is one of 17 states to allow parents to exempt their children from vaccinations because of “personal” beliefs and not just medical or religious reasons. The number of overall exemptions in Colorado for the 2017-18 school year was the largest in the country, according to a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A proposal in the Colorado Legislature this year proposed eliminating the personal exemption.

The lowest school MMR vaccination rate in the Aspen area was logged by the post-kindergarten population of the Aspen Community Charter School, which had an 85.2 percent rate, according to state public health statistics. That was followed by the kindergarten students of the Aspen Country Day School, which logged an 87 percent MMR vaccination rate.

The kindergarten students at Aspen Elementary School were next with an 89.4 percent MMR vaccination rate, according to the online state statistics. The MMR vaccination rate for the rest of Aspen Elementary was 94 percent.

Aspen Middle School students had a 95.4 percent MMR vaccination rate, while Aspen High School students were 95.1 percent vaccinated, according to the state statistics.

Of all the vaccination exemptions filed in Pitkin County, just one is for religious reasons, Koenemann said.

Those rates are publicly available online at the CDPHE website. Koenemann said her department generally doesn’t disseminate the individual school figures because it doesn’t want to be seen as punishing the schools.

She said she sympathizes with parents who “are struggling to do right by their child” and just want to ensure their safety. However, vaccines are effective and safe, she said.

“It’s kind of phenomenal,” Koenemann said. “We don’t worry about smallpox or polio. Measles was eradicated. It’s hard to see us go backwards.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury has been thinking about vaccines frequently lately. Not only do she and her husband have a 2-year-old daughter, but McNicholas Kury is six months pregnant with her second child.

“(My immune system) is compromised,” she said in a recent interview. “From our household, we have a lot of interest (in vaccines).”

So far, she’s followed the vaccination recommendations for her daughter, Brigid, and recently learned that the second MMR vaccine due when she is between four and six years old is essential and not just a booster.

“While talking to my doctor at Brigid’s two-year checkup, he discussed concerns about measles cases in Denver and indicated that if they started to observe a spread, he would advise patients to come in earlier for their second dose,” McNicholas Kury said in an email.

An adult Denver resident who’d been traveling internationally tested positive for measles Jan. 15, Koenemann said. Measles outbreaks have occurred this year in Washington state, New York and New Jersey.

McNicholas Kury said she want to get the word out to bring up the MMR vaccination rate in Pitkin County.

“I’m concerned because I think Pitkin County could be subject to (a measles) outbreak like we’ve seen in other parts of the country,” she said.

In general, both McNicholas Kury and Koenemann want to encourage any vaccine-hesitant parent to contact them or other public health officials with any questions about any vaccine.

“I think vaccines are one of the wonders of the modern world,” McNicholas Kury said. “We know more about vaccines than we do about eating organic food.”

Further, she said that while she’s aware that autism presents difficult challenges for parents, “the trade-off is a deadly disease.”

“And it’s not just your kid,” McNicholas Kury said. “It’s your parents. It’s your neighbors. It does require people to take a larger view outside their own families.”


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