Western part of Wisconsin has the lowest early childhood vaccination rates in the state

LA CROSSE CO., Wis. (WEAU) -- In 2017, 73 percent of children younger than two received all their early childhood vaccinations statewide, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

But in the western region of Wisconsin, only 69 percent of children were fully covered, the lowest in the state.

"There are these non-vaccination hotspots throughout the country and they tend to follow states which allow personal exemptions to immunizations upon school entry and both Wisconsin and Minnesota are two of the 18 states," said Dr. Rajiv Naik, Pediatrics Section Head at Gundersen Health System - Onalaska Campus.

There are seven sets of early childhood vaccinations, such as MMR and polio, that go into full coverage.

All of which health officials say are important.

"Our infants are born with immune systems that can fight most germs, in fact they're exposed to thousands of germs daily," says La Crosse County Health Department Public Health Nurse Bryany Weigel. "However there are some viruses and bacteria that their immune systems can't handle alone. Vaccines can help protect their bodies and fight off and provide long lasting protection from those viruses and bacteria."

In Eau Claire County, 74 percent of all children younger than 24 months were fully vaccinated in 2017.

In La Crosse County that number was 78 percent.

But in Vernon County, it's a statewide low at 44 percent.

Doctors attribute the low numbers to the spread of misinformation about vaccinations.

This week, Gundersen Health System announced it received a $120,000 grant that will be used to improve immunization rates across the region.

"What we really want to do is really train and help health care providers learn how to council families on the real benefits of the immunizations to dispell these myths," said Naik.

At Gundersen, the immunization rate is 84 percent organization-wide, which Naik hopes moves to 90 percent following this grant.