Researchers Apologize, Pittsburgh Not “Hotspot” Of Unvaccinated Children

PLOS Medicine researchers admit errors in county-level data

Robert Mangino
June 14, 2018 - 7:37 pm
Girl Getting Shot

PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) – Researchers from study say Pittsburgh is not one of 15 cities containing "hotspots" of unvaccinated school-age children and should have never been on the list. 

The study published Tuesday in Public Library of Science Journal 'PLOS Medicine' focused on areas with high concentrations of children with non-medical exemptions (NMEs).

The 2015 National Immunization Survey found only 72.2% of children aged 19 to 35 months in the United States were fully vaccinated as per guidelines from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, according to the study.

Epidemiologist with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Dr. Wilbert van Panhuis told the KDKA Radio Afternoon News the study found two percent of kindergarteners in Allegheny County have not been vaccinated through NMEs.

“The children are medically perfectly fine to get vaccinated but the parents have opted not to do this for philosophical or religious reasons,” van Panhuis said. “[This puts] unprotected children in classrooms that could transmit the virus.”

Experts say NMEs have been on the rise since 2009, contributing to outbreaks of preventable diseases.

In a statement from Allegheny County released Friday, the county refuted the study’s numbers: “While the researchers reported 424 non-medical exemptions for Allegheny County kindergarteners in the school year 2015-16, the Pennyslvania Department of Health reported 212 (See the report here) and ACHD reported 236 (the difference between the PA-DOH and ACHD is accounted for due to late reporting schools).”

The statement also says “the researchers behind the recent PLOS Medicine Journal article have apologized to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA-DOH) for errors in the county-level data that they relied on in suggesting that Pittsburgh (Allegheny County) is a “hot spot” county with a high proportion of nonmedical exemptions to vaccination and so may be especially susceptible to outbreaks.”

Officials also say “over the last four years, the Health Department saw no significant increase in the rate of non-medical exemptions to vaccination in Allegheny County in kindergarteners.”

Allegheny County has actually seen a relative decrease in NMEs for kindergartners in the past four years. Data indicates that 2.1 percent of kindergartners were not immunized through NMEs for the most recent school year. 

Panhuis says that may not seem like much, but cautions that just one child infected with a preventable disease such as measles can infect a dozen others as opposed to the flu which is only transmitted to one other child on average. He says this makes herd immunization or community immunization crucial.

“Measles is 12 times more infectious and that’s why you need a lot of children to be immunized so that the virus cannot spread.”

Other cities listed in the study are Phoenix, Ariz.; Provo and Salt Lake City in Utah; Seattle and Spokane in Washington; Portland, Ore.; Detroit, Troy and Warren in Michigan; Houston, Fort Worth, Plano and Austin in Texas; and Kansas City, Mo. In the apology issued to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Researchers said the “inadvertent errors” were isolated to Allegheny County.  

Researchers also said they would would inform appropriate media sources and have requested that the Journal corrections be issued to the article.

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