Vaccine exemptions make SLC, Provo among US risk leaders for preventable diseases for kids

Salt Lake City and Provo are among the highest pockets of vulnerability in the nation for childhood diseases according to a new medical study. (Photo: MGN)

(KUTV) — Salt Lake City and Provo are included in the highest pockets of vulnerability in the nation for childhood diseases according to a new medical study.

It says that as opposition to vaccines has increased in the U.S., measles outbreaks have also increased, putting children at risk, especially in states where non-medical exemptions to vaccines are allowed. It linked the higher number of cases reported in 12 of the 18 states that allows non-medical vaccine exemptions -- called NMEs in the study.

Utah was part of a measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland in 2014 and 2015.

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"The measles epidemic from 2014 to 2015 originating from the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, CA was a consequence of low MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination coverage of children (50%–86% vaccination rate among the exposed population)," the report published Tuesday is PLOS Medicine said.

In metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City was second on the ranking list while Provo was sixth.

The study also identified rural regions of states with Utah's Morgan County ranking among the national leaders in vaccine exemptions at 14.55 percent in 10th place. Idaho has an abundance of counties with the highest NME rates, especially in southern Idaho, creating Utah and Idaho as the largest portion of the heat map in the nation. Much of the region is colored as the "hottest" red on the color-coded national map.

Of the 10 U.S. counties with the highest exemption rates, Idaho has eight of them, with Camas County in southern Idaho showing a more than 26 percent of kindergarten children skipping vaccinations in the 2016 - 2017 school year, the study said.

“We were able to identify some scary trends that were happening,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine and one of the study authors told the Washington Post. He said the findings should prompt the CDC to investigate further.

Salt Lake, Provo and the other city regions present other risks, according to the study, and could lead to originate or spread of vaccine-preventable diseases could spread among children.

"The fact that the largest count of vaccine-exempt pediatric populations originate in large cities with busy international airports may further contribute to this risk," it said. It also showed a correlation between states that now require vaccinations, including California after the Disney outbreak, and a decrease in those who are not vaccinated.

"As noted by the recent experience in Anaheim, California, low vaccination rates resulted in a measles outbreak. In contrast, state closure of NMEs has resulted in an increase of MMR coverage," it said.

The CDC considers measles one of the most contagious diseases on earth. Nine of 10 people who are not immune and share living space with someone infected with contact the disease, according to studies.

A child without the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is 35 times more likely to contract measles than a vaccinated child. Children who cannot get the vaccine for medical reasons are put at greater risk because of those who choose not to.

"NMEs weaken herd immunity that protects the population at large, particularly children who are unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons," the report said.