Vaccine hesitancy — when someone delays or refuses vaccination despite their availability — is one of the top reasons why children go unvaccinated nationwide. In Alaska, it's why close to 20% of mothers aren't vaccinating their toddlers.

The state's epidemiology department within the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services recently analyzed responses to the Alaska Childhood Understanding Behaviors Survey (CUBS) between 2015 and 2017 and found that a number of mothers either delayed or skipped vaccines for their 3-year-old children.

According to the state, 22.8% of mothers said they either delayed or didn't vaccinate their child. Of those mothers, over 75% said they did so, at least in part, because of vaccine hesitancy or their personal beliefs. Less common reasons for not vaccinating kids included the vaccine not being available, problems making an appointment and costs.

"Some of the responses are consistent with what the national research shows," Jared Parrish, an epidemiologist with DHSS, said. "There might be some confusion about the research on it, feeling that there's too many given at one time, there might still be some misunderstanding from the prior research that indicated a relationship with some of the vaccinations and some health outcomes, and some spiritual beliefs."

 

The state found that vaccine hesitancy was higher among mothers in the Gulf Coast, Interior and Matanuska-Susitna valleys compared to those living in Anchorage.

Mothers who gave birth at home or in a birth center instead of a hospital, mothers whose children had a gap in health coverage and mothers whose children hadn't seen a doctor in the previous year also had higher rates of vaccine hesitancy.

"Those factors could all be measuring some level of underlying distrust or lack of belief or not getting something from the current medical care model," Parrish said. "But it gives us some insights on where we can provide some better education about what the vaccines are so the clinician and the parent can make the best decision for themselves."

The state says vaccine hesitancy is the primary reason why parents are not vaccinating their children according to the recommended immunization schedule. However, the state says it is making progress vaccinating young children overall.

"In Alaska, we do see some delay in immunizations in terms of the schedule, but we do find that by kindergarten that they get caught up," Matthew Bobo, an epidemiologist with DHSS and Alaska Immunization Program staff, said.

According to the data, 69.5% of Alaskan children between the ages of 19 and 35 months were vaccinated on schedule in 2017 — the highest level in about 10 years, though slightly under the national average of 70.4%.

To read the full report, visit the DHSS website.

Interactive graphics by Shayne Nuesca.

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