More parents getting vaccine exemptions concerns health officials

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PHOENIX -- More and more parents are choosing not to get their children immunized, which has Arizona health officials eager to stop the trend.

A Valley brother and sister may see their apple as a yummy snack, but their mom and grandmother say health food is the best weapon against disease.

Erleen Tilton is a holistic nutrition specialist and grandmother.

"If we were eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables, if we were eating more whole grains and legumes, we would be naturally building our immune system like it should be," Tilton said.

That is why neither child has gotten any vaccinations.

"I do get very passionate about my children and making sure they're not getting something, taking something, in their body that can hurt them," said their mother, Tanya Howell.

After all, Howell herself never got vaccinated. Tilton believes "it's actually better to have the disease than to have the adverse effects that are caused from the vaccines themselves."

But Kathy Lewis with the Arizona Department of Health Services said, "It's not just a personal decision, but it affects all of us."

Lewis oversees the immunization program.

"All of these diseases are only an airplane ride away from anywhere in the world," she said.

Research shows those who get vaccination exemptions tend to be college educated, middle class and, according to Lewis, "They don't feel like they're at risk because of their lifestyle. They eat right, they exercise, they don't see the disease so they don't feel the risk of disease and they don't fully understand how wonderful vaccines are."

According to the Associated Press, exemptions are on the rise in most states. The Arizona Department of Health Services compiled a list of zip codes to further examine the trend. 86340 in Sedona had the highest exemption rate at nearly 48 percent. Mesa took second and third place. In 85275, 31 percent of parents aren't vaccinating their children. In 85211, it's almost 18 percent.

"If people stop immunizing we'll immediately see more whooping cough and children dying from whooping cough, measles will spread, we will see children getting infected with German measles before they're born and then being deaf, blind, mentally retarded, they will come back," Lewis said. "Parents need to do their own research, but they also need to be willing to trust the people that have a lot of experience."

As for Tilton and Howell, they agree with one thing, research is key. "Number one, first and foremost, is read and study the issue and make sure you do study both sides because there really are two sides of this issue."

For more information about Tilton, visit