California measles cases spark immunization discussions in Utah

Published: Tuesday, April 8 2014 11:55 p.m. MDT

Registered nurse Maruja Sanchez gives a vaccination to Ruby Espinoza at the South Main Public Health Clinic in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gissel Astorga started to cry before the needles were out.

The 4-year-old struggled and cried in the arms of her father, Mario Astorga. Gissel received four vaccinations Tuesday at the South Main Public Health Clinic, including one for measles, mumps and rubella.

A recent rise in measles cases in California has sparked discussion about the importance of vaccinating children.

According to the California Department of Public Health website, there have been 51 cases of measles so far this year. In 2013, four cases had been reported through the end of April.

Linda Abel, immunization program manager for the Utah Department of Health, said immunization rates in Utah are higher than the national average.

In 2012, Utah had a 74.9 percent immunization rate, compared with the national average of 71.9 percent.

Utah had a measles outbreak in 2011. The health department reported 15 cases statewide — nine in Salt Lake County and three each in Cache and Millard counties. Of the nine in Salt Lake County, seven individuals had not been vaccinated.

Abel said about 90 percent of Utah children going into kindergarten are adequately immunized. Children whose parents have opted out of immunizing them represent about 3.8 percent of the population.

"There are parents who are hesitant about vaccinations," she said. "As a parent, we have many choices to make, decisions for our kids throughout their lives, and of course we strongly encourage you to choose immunization for your children."

After Gissel had a pink camouflage bandage on each arm, she received a pair of pink sunglasses and princess stickers for her bravery.

"I know it's very hard for them, but I think it's something important for her age," her father said.

The vaccines, Astorga said, are important for his daughter's health.

"It doesn't matter what the parents think," he said of parents who opt not to get their children vaccinated. "It's about the children. We're talking about the children."

Audrey Stevenson, division director for the Salt Lake County Health Department, said there are some families that choose not to have their children vaccinated or select which vaccines to give their children. Others opt not to follow recommend vaccination schedules.

"There are individuals who will make the choice not to receive one or another of the vaccines because of concerns about issues like vaccine safety or issues about vaccine side effects," Stevenson said.

"There was a previous report that linked MMR (the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine) to autism, and those studies have since been refuted," she said. "However, there still are individuals who choose not to receive certain vaccines."

Lindsay Hoggan, a Bluffdale resident and a mother of two, said she has decided not to vaccinate her daughters.

"I'm just mostly worried about it for the first year of their life because I feel like you have to have an immune system to process something," she said.

After learning the vaccines are a live virus, Hoggan said she was worried about her children catching the disease "when they wouldn't have been susceptible to it anyway."

Hoggan said she feels her children are too young, and if they are breastfed they are getting that immunity anyway.

She doesn't describe herself as being against vaccinating children. For now, she has control of the environment of her 2 ½-year-old and 6-month-old. Hoggan said she and her husband will discuss vaccines when their children are old enough for school.

"Vaccines have helped so much with epidemics of so many different diseases," she said. "But sometimes I think that it's a little excessive."

Stevenson said vaccines are the best way to prevent disease, especially when it comes to measles.

"Measles in particular is about 90 percent contagious," she said. "So if you have an individual who's not been vaccinated and they get exposed to a person with measles, there is a very high likelihood that they're going to contract the disease."

Stevenson said a number of vaccines are given to children in their first two years of life.

"We don't have many families in Utah that choose not to vaccinate their children," she said. "The exemption rate hovers around 3 percent here in Salt Lake County."

Utah ranked 12th in the nation for the number of 2-year-olds fully immunized, according to the state's 2013 Immunization Coverage Report.

With an immunity level of 90 percent, Stevenson said there is going to be far less disease spread within those communities.

"Many of these diseases have very serious consequences, including measles," she said. "And so our recommendation is that individuals protect themselves and protect others by being vaccinated."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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