DENVER (CBS4) – The current measles outbreak in the United States is a big concern for parents with children who may be around unvaccinated children, and those concerns loom larger in many pockets of Colorado.
Colorado kindergartners have the lowest vaccination rate for measles in the country. However, that problem doesn’t seem to be happening with one segment of Denver’s population.
Denver Health Medical Center confirmed last week that 98 percent of children treated at its kids care clinic have been vaccinated.
That’s much higher than the 81 percent state average for the vaccination, a figure released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Simon Hambidge, chief of Ambulatory Care at Denver Health, said patients they see at the Denver Health Community Health clinic are “below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and quite a few are racial and ethnic minorities.”
“There are a lot of cultural differences. We do serve a majority poor population. And there’s plenty of evidence — we’ve known for several years — that mothers who refuse vaccines for their children tend to be white, tend to be college educated and they tend to be upper middle class. That’s the demographic of vaccine hesitancy,” he said. “And since we have a lower number of mothers that fit that group in this clinic that’s another reason why our rates are higher.”
Hambidge says he believes the families they serve, which includes many immigrants, are aware of the importance of being protected.
“I think we do have a number of families that are one or two generations removed from immigration from other countries, and I think when you come from a poor background, especially from another country and you’ve actually seen vaccine-preventable diseases and seen things like polio and what it can do to people — and around the world measles kills tens of thousands of children a year — and so immigrants tend to have a very heightened awareness of what vaccine preventable diseases can do,” said Hambidge said.
Hambidge says a concept of herd immunity is something Colorado should be striving for across all segments of its population when it comes to vaccination for measles.
“That’s the concept that when you are deciding not to vaccinate your child or to delay vaccination for your child, it’s a decision that is impacting not only your child in terms of potentially putting them at risk for measles or other diseases but those around them,” he said.
He says Colorado needs to be at 95 percent or higher measles vaccine rate to reach herd immunity across the state. In the populated area around Denver Health, however, he says an outbreak would be less likely.
“In the neighborhoods around our clinic, herd immunity is going to be 98 percent. That means that it’s going to be really hard, even if someone with measles comes into the neighborhoods here, it probably won’t infect anyone or go anywhere.
“But if it goes into a neighborhood where the rates are lower than 95 percent, then it gains a toehold and then you start to see it spread like with the Disney (situation),” Hambidge said.
CBS4 Medical Editor Dr. Dave Hnida said misinformation about vaccines is allowing curable diseases like measles to spread.
Every state has mandatory Measles vaccines but it’s easy to get around that in Colorado, one of a small number of states where families can opt out for medical reasons or personal and religious beliefs.