Increasing Number of Parents Skipping Vaccinations for School Children

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All fifty states have legislation requiring specified vaccines for school children; however there are also laws that grant exemptions to children for medical or religious reasons as well. A new Associated Press analysis has found that a greater number of parents are opting to ask for an exception from School Immunization Requirements and that in eight states, more than 1 in 20 public school kindergarten students aren’t getting all the vaccines they require. The growing trend worries health officials, as outbreaks of diseases that have just about been eliminated may begin to resurface.

The review of vaccination exemption rates among kindergarten students was conducted using 2010-2011 data from state health departments. In more than half the states, the number of parents asking for exemptions from school immunizations had increased. In 10 states, the increases were as much as 1.5 percentage points.

Most of the states whose families had asked for exemption from vaccines were in the West and Upper Midwest. Alaska had the highest exemption rate at nearly 9 percent. This was followed by Colorado (7%), Minnesota (6.5%), and Vermont and Washington (6% each). Mississippi had the lowest exemption rate at essential zero. The researchers noted “exemption hot-spots” such as Sedona, Arizona where many residents have a greater interest in alternative medicine.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 48 out of fifty states grant exemptions for people who have religious beliefs against immunizations. These include Christian Scientists and certain fundamentalists. However, in 2007, CBS News reported that an increasing number of parents are “faking” their beliefs because they feel it is the only option they have. According to the AP survey conducted at the time, between 2003 and 2007, religious exemptions for vaccinating kindergartners increased by double or triple in many states.

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Twenty states allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to vaccines due to personal, moral or other beliefs, such as vaccination safety. Some parents simply believe the vaccines do not help and are a waste of time and money.

Some just want to be able to decide for themselves which immunizations their child should receive and when. They cite the inordinate amount of vaccinations required at such an early age. By the time most children are 6, they will have been stuck about two dozen times – most of those in infancy.

Health officials obviously hope for 100% immunization, but have not yet identified an exemption threshold that would likely lead to outbreaks. Obviously, no vaccine is completely effective. However, exemption rates become worrisome as they climb over 5%. If an outbreak begins in an unvaccinated group of children, it puts even those vaccinated at a greater risk.

For example, says Dr. Lance Rodewald, an immunization expert with the CDC, “Polio can come back. China was polio free for two decades, and just this year, they were infected from Pakistan, and there is a big outbreak of polio (in) China now. The same could happen here.”

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