Vaccines are critical to protecting the health of all Arizonans because they help stop the spread of numerous dangerous diseases, such as measles and whooping cough. Not everyone is old enough or healthy enough to be protected with vaccines, which is why it’s so important that nearly everyone else in our community is fully vaccinated. This herd immunity – when a community has achieved a high level of vaccination – protects everyone by stopping vaccine-preventable disease from sweeping through the community.
Unfortunately, similar to national trends, vaccine coverage rates in Arizona continue to decrease. Our most recent reports show 5.4% of Arizona kindergartners are not vaccinated with one or more school-required immunizations. This reduction of vaccine coverage places individuals and communities at risk for an outbreak.
Public health is always looking for new ways to educate parents and families about the importance, effectiveness, and safety of vaccines. Recently, we started a pilot program in just 16 schools in Maricopa County, which provided a video-based educational course to parents wanting to exempt their child from vaccines. This very small test did not show any significant change in vaccine exemptions in the eight participating elementary schools, the only school types for which ADHS has data. Over half of the pilot elementary schools had a slight increase in vaccine exemptions in their Kindergarten and/or 6th graders. Over half of the eight schools in the control group not using the video showed a slight decrease in vaccine exemptions. Unfortunately, these weren’t the results we were hoping to see. This data, combined with partner feedback and a review of rules/statutes, resulted in our decision to discontinue and re-evaluate the pilot program.
Luckily, Governor Ducey and his office are very supportive of immunizations. They have encouraged us to continue exploring new approaches to increase the number of Arizona kids who are protected from diseases. ADHS is already brainstorming potential new uses for our immunization education course. Future projects may include increasing the sample size of the pilot to get statistically significant data, providing the course as an educational video separate from the exemption form, or utilizing the vaccine educational course to provide targeted education at schools with low vaccination rates.
We continue to maintain strategies we know support vaccine coverage. ADHS provides funding to local health departments and fire departments to vaccinate people. We also facilitate the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program, a network of around 800 Arizona healthcare providers who vaccinate children who might not otherwise be able to afford this protection because of a lack of insurance. We work with those providers to review vaccine coverage of children in their offices, and we help set goals with strategies and metrics for increasing vaccine coverage in their patients. Every year, schools and licensed child care facilities are required to report their immunization coverage data to us, which we post on our immunization website so parents can review their school’s coverage. Schools and child care facilities reporting at least 95% vaccine coverage receive a certificate of excellence in immunization coverage. Another form of outreach is through social media. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter where we share reminders and information about vaccination.
The best way to prevent serious vaccine-preventable illnesses, especially in children, is to fully vaccinate on schedule. We continue building our partnerships and exploring innovative approaches to improve immunization rates and protect the health of all Arizona’s children.