A new report finds as more and more New Jersey students receive religious exemptions from mandatory childhood vaccinations in school, the percentage of Garden State residents coming down with serious diseases that are vaccine-preventable is on the rise.

Roger Sarao, the lead investigator on the New Jersey Hospital Association report, said state Health Department data shows exemptions for students jumped from 1.7% in 2013-14 to 2.6% this past school year.

He said recent data on vaccine-preventable diseases in New Jersey, collected from the CDC, is concerning.

“Our population is about 2.5 to 3% of the country, yet last year when the measles outbreaks began, New Jersey accounted for 10% of the country's measles cases," he said.

“There’s an increasing distrust among the public regarding vaccinations and this is partly driving the incident rates we’re seeing in New Jersey."

New Jersey had 37 cases of measles in 2018. So far this year there have been 18 cases of measles, most of them in Ocean County.

Nationally there have been 1,203 individual cases of measles confirmed so far this year, more than three times the number of cases reported in all of 2018.

He said another vaccine-preventable disease, influenza, has also been on the rise. The rate of flu per 100,000 New Jersey residents more than doubled since 2017.

The report finds in 2017 there were 152.7 flu cases per 100,000 people in Jersey, but in 2018 that number rose to 317.4, an increase of 108%.

He said during the 2017-2018 flu season, a total of 3,932 patients were hospitalized for influenza-related illnesses in New Jersey, and 35,307 were treated in hospital emergency departments.

During the most recent flu season, 2,439 people in New Jersey were hospitalized with influenza, while 27,021 patients got treatment in hospital ERs.

He noted there is a health and financial cost when people choose not to become vaccinated.

“Vaccine-preventable diseases, according to one study, cost the U.S. more than $9 billion annually," he said.

Sarao said unless awareness increases about the importance of vaccinations, “we will very likely continue to see an increase in these vaccine-preventable diseases.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com