Not immune: Vaccines in Arkansas

Not immune: Vaccinations in Arkansas

(KAIT) - They are the doctor visits you hate; vaccinations, according to doctors, should be a routine part of life.

They have come under fire in recent years, though, which has caused vaccination rates to drop.

Region 8 News spoke with several doctors in the area, and they all agreed the reason for the sudden increase in people who haven’t been vaccinated can range from medical to religious, but a large part of it is from misinformation on vaccines.

Dr. Shane Speights is the Dean of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at A-State.

He said Arkansas isn’t an exception to the lack of immunization.

“In the state of Arkansas, typically, when we look at vaccination rates, we’re toward the middle or toward the bottom of the pack,” said Speights.

The anti-vaxxer movement has picked up steam as parents stop getting their children vaccinated over fears of increase risk of Autism.

A fear doctors say started with an article that linked the MMR vaccine to autism that was later retracted for lack of evidence.

The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is given to people to avoid the spread of the three diseases that health officials have worked to eliminate.
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is given to people to avoid the spread of the three diseases that health officials have worked to eliminate. (Source: KAIT-TV)

Here in Arkansas, however, the reason for lower vaccination rates may be due to a different reason.

“Only about 57% of our kids in the state of Arkansas that are at or below poverty level have been vaccinated,” said Speights.

Region 8 News looked at data from the CDC focusing on the 7-vaccine series for children 19 to 34 months old.

The data showed over the past five years vaccination rates have slowly increased here in Arkansas.

In 2013, the rate was 57%, compared to 2017 when it was 69%.

In 2018, the rate remained at 69%. However, doctors we spoke with said that number doesn’t account for areas of poverty.

While there has been an improvement in vaccination rates, doctors say that percentage is not enough to stop diseases from spreading.

“Most of the bacteria and viruses we vaccinate for either there isn’t a cure or there aren’t good treatments, or even with treatments there can be very bad complications," said Dr. Justin Yancey, a pediatric hospitalist at St. Bernards.

The country is currently experiencing wide-spread measles outbreaks, a disease eradicated in the United States in 2000.

According to the CDC, our country has seen over 700 cases of measles confirmed in 22 states just this year.

That’s the highest number of cases reported since 1994.

“Those outbreaks are becoming larger because our vaccine rates are becoming lower,” said Yancey.

Region 8 is also experiencing an outbreak of another disease- Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a virus that’s also prevented by vaccination.

“That virus when I was a child you were not required to be vaccinated for so there’s lots of people who are not vaccinated for that,” said Yancey.

With many people not immunized against Hep A or other diseases, it prevents herd immunity.

A way to battle diseases by having everyone vaccinated.

Dr. Speights said the percent of the population needed to create herd immunity depends on the disease.

You need at least 93% of the population in a community to be vaccinated against the measles to provide herd immunity.

In general, you need 90-95% of the community to be vaccinated to provide herd immunity, without it, viruses spread much faster.

“Herd immunity’s a big deal, but once you start dropping down to even like 95 percent, 92 percent you lose the herd immunity,” said Speights.

There are still some parents who don’t want their children vaccinated.

Chelsea Gaul decided to stop vaccinating her children.

She says researching the process and ingredients used in vaccinations led to that decision.

“We’re not against doctors. Modern medicine saved my life a couple of years ago. We just didn’t want to have vaccine visits. We just go when we need to,” said Gaul.

Doctors do say the biggest risk is an allergic reaction with most vaccinations.

But, they say misinformation is a big issue when parents decide whether or not to vaccinate their children.

“Every parent wants to do what’s best for their child,” said Yancey. "There’s a whole, whole lot of misinformation regarding vaccines and that is probably the hardest thing to combat.”

That’s where students with NYITCOM at Arkansas State come in.

Students in the inaugural class have started their clinical training, and they’re focusing on rural communities.

“We have the time to be able to go out into these communities and actually provide that education to the populations that so desperately need it,” said Speights.

Tim Baty is one of the students in his clinical rotation.

He believes preventative care like vaccinations is important, but you can’t force people to change their minds.

“All we can do is just give the information to them and then allow them to make up their own mind,” said Baty.

Both doctors and anti-vaxxers agree that it’s ultimately a person’s choice to vaccinate themselves or their children.

“I don’t think anyone should tell anyone what to do with their kids,” said Gaul.

Even though they agree, there are still strong opinions on both sides.

“That debate is over," said Speights. "Vaccines save lives. If you want your children to be healthy, and your grandchildren to be healthy, and everyone around you to be healthy get vaccinated.”

To learn more about the vaccinations required in Arkansas or to learn how to get an exemption, visit the Arkansas Department of Health website here.

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