Vaccinations decline as parents choose to opt out their kids

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- On the checklist of things to do before any school year is to make sure a child's vaccinations are up to date. In Arizona, however, the amount of parents seeking an exemption are on the rise.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there's been a steady increase in exemptions over the last five years, and in Arizona, parents can legally choose not to vaccinate their kids, for medical or personal reasons.

"We're seeing more of these diseases that we thought were gone starting to spring up in different parts of the country," said Banner Health pediatrician, Dr. Russell Horton.

For the 2017-2018 school year, 5.5% of public school students are opted out. In charter schools, the figure was 9%, and in some counties around the state, 10% to 15% of students aren't being vaccinated.

"We've seen those rates as low as the 4% or so. 3.9%, 4%, so we're seeing a 1% to a 1.5% increase in students that are exempted from vaccines," said Jessica Rigler with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Doctor Horton said discussions with parents about "opting out" happens daily, and he said many parents are now spacing out vaccinations.

"You're not getting antibody levels that are being boosted at the appropriate times, so you run the risk that your protection and that baby's protection to really cover them against that disease," said Dr. Horton.

Those most at risk with this trend are those who are unvaccinated, infants and people who medically can't be vaccinated.

"As you have bigger populations of kids that aren't vaccinated, that is going to spread," said Dr. Horton. "If one kid gets exposed, they could potentially pass it to hundreds if not thousands of kids in the school system."