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I-Team: Vaccine Rates Plummeting In Parts Of Mass.

BOSTON (CBS) - Childhood vaccines are credited with virtually wiping out a host of awful diseases, yet many parents are still concerned about the shots.

Two and a half year old Collin let out a scream as he got his latest vaccine in the office of his Cape Cod pediatrician, but Dr. Sharon Daley believes that discomfort is a small price to pay for the protection the shot offers.

Dr. Daley, who is also the chief of pediatrics at Cape Cod Hospital, explained, "Whooping cough, and diphtheria, measles, bacterial meningitis, even influenza; these diseases used to cause thousands of deaths each year."

Dr. Daley is concerned with the number of children on the Cape who are not getting vaccinated. "Once vaccination rates go down, the likelihood of an outbreak increases."

The I-Team obtained the latest data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and found almost 5% of Cape Cod kindergarten students were exempted from immunizations. That is an increase from last year.

There are other pockets of the state with higher exemption rates. In Franklin County the rate is about 5.5%. Just under 4% of Hampshire County kindergarteners were exempted. Experts think many of these people could be drawn to a more rural lifestyle, one that emphasizes organic live and homeopathic cures.

The rates in counties in and around Boston are much lower.

Boston University professor of public health Kim Shea says that like-minded people often live near one another. "There is one soccer mom talking to another soccer mom and they are sharing ideas, and sharing information, and some of those ideas may not be correct and they are being perpetuated."

Much of the anxiety over vaccines goes back to research from 1998 that later turned out to be bogus. The author lost his medical license. Dr. Daley added, "There is no scientific proof that autism and vaccines are related, yet somehow the legend lives on."

Some parents are hoping their vaccine-free children are safe with something known as 'Herd Immunity'. That's the idea that if the vast majority of other children are vaccinated, then their child with be protected because the likelihood of an outbreak goes down. Professor Shea countered that this is purely theoretical. "Every disease is a plane ride away."

The I-Team spoke to a mother in Metrowest who has not had her two young children vaccinated. She would not reveal her identity due to the backlash she has faced about her decision in the past. She said the focus should be on the efficacy and safety of vaccines, not the parents who chose exemptions.

The unidentified mother added, "The reason we are having a lot of failures right now in herd immunity is not necessarily the exemption population. You have vaccine failure, and then you have people whose vaccines have worn off."

It's the risk to those who can't make a choice about vaccines, like infants too young to receive a measles shot, that worries Dr. Daley. "In our practice we have a couple of heart transplant patients and they are taking Immunosuppressive medicines. They are not able to have some of these vaccines, but if they sat next to someone at school who had a contagious disease, their life might be at risk."

The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported there were more cases of measles nationally in the first eight months of this year than in any year over the last two decades. One of the causes cited: unvaccinated children.

Send tips for the I-Team to or call 617-779 TIPS


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