This is not a story about why you should vaccinate your children. Every state, local and federal public health agency says you should, and if you don’t, you’re required to notify your child’s school that you didn’t, and allow your child to be quarantined in the event of an outbreak of a potentially fatal but vaccine-preventable disease like measles, polio, pertussis or diptheria. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) estimates vaccines save the lives of 3 million children every year, and it encourages every parent to vaccinate their kids.
Instead, this is a story about why, despite increased educational outreach, Boulder County persists in having some of the lowest child vaccination rates in the country — with some schools reporting less than 50 percent of their students are fully vaccinated — and what local and state health officials are doing to educate communities, protect vulnerable populations and prepare for potential outbreaks.
“A lot of what we are trying to do is because there’s so much misinformation and fear out there,” says Teresa Luker, Boulder County’s immunization program coordinator. “It confuses some people, especially new parents, and we just try to provide an avenue to encourage anybody who is unsure just to talk to their health care provider about their concerns so they are fully understanding how vaccines work and the risk from getting a vaccine versus getting a vaccine-preventable illness.”
Skepticism of vaccines is not unique to Boulder County. In fact, it’s not unique to the most recent generation of parents. People were skeptical of early versions of vaccines for smallpox going back about 1,000 years ago. But, certainly, the internet has allowed for the proliferation of dubious science, including the roundly debunked study by Andrew Wakefield that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.