February 4, 2015

Health officials warn of measles’ rise alongside numbers of unvaccinated

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iStock_000013592212_LargeWhile New Mexico has so far been spared from the latest outbreak of measles, the increasing number of local schoolchildren who haven’t been vaccinated is cause for concern as the highly contagious disease afflicts surrounding states.

The Santa Fe New Mexican last week cited figures from the Department of Health showing a 17 percent increase since 2012 in the number of vaccine exemptions requested by parents. From the article:

New Mexico law allows parents to request vaccination exemptions for their children based on medical need or religious beliefs. The exemptions registered with the Department of Health cover all vaccines, not specifically measles. But the recent measles outbreak is reason to raise awareness, said state Health Secretary Retta Ward.

In an official statement released on Jan. 29, Ward said, “We know the majority of the people who get measles are unvaccinated. Since measles is still common in many parts of the world and travelers with measles continue to bring the disease into the U.S., we want all New Mexicans to know that it can spread when it reaches communities where groups of people are unvaccinated.”

Prior to 2012, the state allowed parents to cite “philosophical objections” as a reason for exempting children from vaccinations. Health officials changed the standards when they saw the philosophical exemption contributing to rising numbers of unvaccinated kids. Today, exemptions are only allowed now if vaccinations conflict with religious beliefs or if a regular course of vaccinations presents a health hazard, such as for children with compromised immune systems.

Parents who opt not to have their kids vaccinated cite the importance of individual choice in their decision making, a stance that became politicized as possible Republican presidential candidates Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie weighed in. Paul said he knew of “many” children harmed by vaccines, while Christie received quick backlash from a top presidential advisor and health officials when he said vaccines should be optional.

Dr. Barry Ramo told KOAT yesterday that “there have been 20 studies showing that there are no neurological effects from these vaccines. It’s very rare to have any serious complications.”

The World Health Organization has pointed out that one 1998 study linking vaccines to autism has been both debunked and retracted. Furthermore,

… two key reasons to get vaccinated are to protect ourselves and to protect those around us. Successful vaccination [programs], like successful societies, depend on the cooperation of every individual to ensure the good of all.

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