Colorado is ranked in the top 10 states with the highest rate of vaccine exemptions.

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Colorado is ranked in the top 10 states with the highest rate of vaccine exemptions.

Your Health: Medical professionals call on residents to vaccinate

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— Getting everyone vaccinated is in the best interest of the community, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, adviser to the immunization section of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

So the department is considering removing “personal beliefs” as a reason parents can exempt their children from getting standard vaccinations for diseases such as measles and chickenpox.

“We do know that personal belief exemptions can lead to higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Herlihy said.

By the end of January, the department will meet with its executives to decide how to move forward, Herlihy said.

“Two years ago, we were identified in Colorado as having the second-highest rate of exemptions in the country,” she said.

While Colorado no longer is ranked so high, the number of parents who opt out of vaccinations because of “personal beliefs” still is large enough to keep the state in the top 10, she said. And that’s not good because it puts schoolchildren at risk of devastating outbreaks.

Terri Jourgensen, clinic director with The Memorial Hospital, was Moffat County School District’s registered nurse for 10 years until recently. She admits some conflict about the vaccination issue because while she believes in personal choice, from a medical perspective, she supports vaccinations for pretty much everyone.

“Even still, we see some chickenpox,” she said. “As a medical professional, I would certainly agree with the public health department that all kids need to be vaccinated.”

Some of the personal beliefs people held that dissuaded them from getting their children vaccinated were based in myths, Jourgensen said.

“Some parents would say they wanted their child’s immune system to develop on its own,” she said. “Some were worried about autism.”

When parents came to her with personal exemptions, she directed them toward the CDPHE website so they could get more information. When children weren’t vaccinated, it did create complications at the school.

“If we did have a kiddo in school who wasn’t vaccinated, when we had a outbreak, we asked those kiddos to go home,” she said.

It’s crucial for parents to get their children vaccinated, Jourgensen said.

“There are very few kids who have a serious reaction to a vaccine, and kids die much more often from a preventable disease than a vaccine,” she said.

Patty Hanley, public health nurse at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, agreed. It is important to vaccinate, not just to protect your child but also to protect the community, she said.

“One of the greatest benefits to immunizations is that we create ‘herd immunity’ and protect those who are not able to be vaccinated,” Hanley said in an email.

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.

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