“The risk of not immunizing is very real,” says Don Callaghan, the immunizations bureau chief for the Iowa Department of Public Health. “Diseases are still present, but I think one of the concerns parents have is they don’t see the diseases that we’re vaccinating for today and that’s because vaccines have done a good job at preventing those.”
Iowa law requires students enrolled in school to be vaccinated against polio, measles and other diseases, like hepatitis B. Iowa law allows parents to get an exemption for their children because of their religion or for medical reasons.
Twenty-seven Iowa schools had fewer than 80 percent of students vaccinated last school year. Five schools had vaccination rates of 50 percent or lower. State officials will be checking immunization records this year, too.
“The audit’s conducted annually to assure children are compliant with school law,” Callaghan says. “For school law, they have to have the required immunizations or they can have a medical or religious exemption or they also they have can a provisional exemption which means they’ve had some of the shots, but they’ve not had time to complete the remaining doses in the series.”
Measles outbreaks are rare in the U.S. because of the vaccination program started in 1963, but Callaghan says the disease is “easily imported.”
“If your child is unvaccinated, we like to say that a disease is a plane ride away,” Callaghan says. “So if you have an individual coming from another country, you could be exposing your child to a potential infectious disease.”
The measles can cause swelling of the brain and death.
Officials in the U.S. and Iowa have seen an increase in the number of parents seeking exemptions from required childhood vaccinations after a fradulent 1998 report suggested a link between immunizations and autism.
“Vaccines have done a good job at preventing vaccine-preventable diseases,” Callaghan says, “so out of sight, out of mind and people just don’t realize that these diseases do exist and it is important to receive the vaccines.”