Study flags Phoenix as hot spot for potential measles outbreak
PHOENIX — A new study flagged the Phoenix area as a hot spot for potential outbreaks of diseases like measles that can be prevented by vaccines.
The research focused on the 18 states, including Arizona, that allow parents to opt their kids out of vaccinations for personal or philosophical beliefs.
“Our study found there’s a high risk of breakthrough childhood infections, especially measles, in about a dozen cities, mostly on the western part of the country,” Dr. Peter Hotez, co-author of the study, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday. “Phoenix, Maricopa County seem to have risen to the top of the study.”
Hotez said researchers expected to find hot spots in Texas and the Seattle area, but Phoenix’s inclusion “kind of surprised everybody.”
“We’re actually doing a follow-up study to look at the social and demographic status of the parents whose kids are getting opted out of vaccines to see if that sheds any light on the situation,” he said.
The study found that 2,947 kindergarten students in Maricopa County weren’t vaccinated because of nonmedical exemptions in 2016-17. That’s more than triple the amount in the next highest metropolitan area, Salt Lake City.
The study published by the Public Library of Science journal found a corrrelation between areas with a high number of nonmedical exemptions and the risk for outbreaks.
California used to allow parents to opt out of vaccines for non-medical reasons, Hotez said, but the state changed its law after a measles epidemic.
“The anti-vaccine groups unfortunately are well-organized and well-funded and they spread a lot of misleading information,” Hotez said. “They claim that vaccines cause autism and other illnesses.”
Hotez, who has a daughter with autism, said there’s “no plausible link” between vaccines and developmental disorders. He said research shows autism begins in the first sixth months of pregnancy, “well before kids ever see vaccines.”
“Unfortunately we’re outgunned,” he said. “The pro-vaccine groups are underfunded and don’t have the organization of the anti-vaccine groups, so parents hear a lot of misleading things about vaccines.”
Hotez has a book coming out called “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism” that chronicles his experience raising his daughter and presents evidence that the condition isn’t caused by vaccines.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mark Carlson contributed to this report.