A release from the Chaffee County Department of Public Health is part of a state-wide push to warn the public that vaccinations save lives and a family who doesn’t vaccinate their children endangers the whole community. Recent outbreaks of measles in Oregon, Washington, New York, Texas and Illinois and individual cases in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky and New Jersey remind us that diseases thought basically eradicated in the United States are making a comeback.

According to the Center for Disease Control, measles was declared eradicated from the United States in 2000. But year-to-date 2019, more than 206 people had been confirmed to have the disease; a figure that Chaffee County Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom says is a threefold increase from the same period in 2010. “Now we hear daily of families afraid to leave home with their newborn for fear of contracting the disease,” said Carlstrom.

According to Carlstrom, these outbreaks are a blunt reminder of how vulnerable we are in Colorado. “For the 2017-18 school year, Colorado’s vaccination rate for Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) ranked 49th out of the 49 states, with a coverage rate of 88.7 percent for two doses of MMR. (1)”

Carlstrom said that in Chaffee County for the time period January 1 to June 30, 2018, only 78.51 to 82.8 percent of 19-35-month-old children received the standard (or two-visit) MMR vaccine. “We need 95 percent coverage to prevent a measles outbreak (here). While the difference may seem small, it’s the difference between sickness and health for infants, those who have compromised immune systems, and pregnant women.”

Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) says that it works closely with local primary care providers to promote the importance of vaccines while educating families who might be hesitant for their children to receive them. Because the reported rates of MMR in Chaffee County are below the 95 percent prevention threshold, says Carlstrom, there is still a need for outreach.

“Vaccines are one of the greatest successes of our time – reducing illness, medical costs and emotional heartbreak for countless families,” said Carlstrom. People should realize that “vaccines have eradicated smallpox, nearly eliminated polio and reduced disability and suffering from infections caused by measles, diphtheria and whooping cough. Yet, vaccines are victims of their own success.”

“Across the country, we are seeing a rise in ‘vaccine hesitancy,’ that is, families whose children do not receive immunizations within the schedule recommended by scientific research, ” said Carlstrom. “This is not surprising, given that most of us have never had to witness the devastating consequences of diseases such as measles and mumps. But the impact of these illnesses can be life-changing. For example, mumps can cause infertility in boys; rubella can cause birth defects, and one in four people with measles will require hospitalization. (2) In 2017 in Colorado, 9,424 children were taken to the hospital because they were ill from a disease that could have been prevented by vaccination. (3)”

Carlstrom says that she realizes that some parents have concerns about vaccines because they’re trying to do the best for their child and are cautious about decisions that will affect them. The truth, she says, is that vaccination saves lives; approximately 33,000 each year in the U.S. alone. (4) She says that some of the best minds in science continue to work on vaccines to make them safe and effective for the community, and for their own children.

“In the end, we all pay the cost of controlling the spread of illness from diseases that can be prevented by a vaccine,” says Carlstrom. “Washington State has declared a state of emergency in response to their measles outbreak in order to receive federal funding to respond; it’s cost over $1 million so far.”

Schools pay a cost to continue to meet education standards despite children being absent for weeks, she added. Most importantly, immuno-compromised individuals and their families pay the cost of being vulnerable to severe illness.

Carlstrom urges the Chaffee County community, especially those who can get fully vaccinated, to get immunized. She explained that diseases can quickly spread to become full-fledged outbreaks and only high vaccination rates can keep communities healthy and safe.

“We are privileged to have access to vaccinations. It’s an opportunity that many others do not have,” said Carlstrom. “As a part of this community, we have a responsibility to each other. We’ve eradicated disease before; let’s do it again.”

According to the Department of Public Health, vaccinations can help the spread of a disease at any stage of an outbreak. To make a vaccine appointment today, call your family’s primary care provider, or call CCPH for an appointment at 719-539-4510.

Carlstrom provided the following background to the statistics quoted in this report: