Fewer Children Immunized When Philosophical Exemptions Available

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Laws that allow parents to opt out of school immunization requirements due to philosophical beliefs are linked to increases in the number of children exempted from vaccinations, a new study finds.

The study examined changes in childhood immunization rates that occurred among Arkansas schoolchildren before and after the 2003 passage of legislation allowing philosophical exemptions.

"The change in the law in Arkansas resulted in a modest increase in the rates of parents taking exemptions,'' said Daniel Salmon, Ph.D., a study co-author.

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More nonmedical exemptions could potentially increase the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, the authors say in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Before 2003, Arkansas children could be exempted from school immunization requirements for medical or religious reasons. However, in 2003, the Federal court ruled that Arkansas' ability to determine if a religion is "recognized'' as a basis for exemption was unconstitutional.

New legislation implemented in Arkansas in fall 2003 retained medical exemptions but also enabled parents to apply for exemptions for their child based on philosophical objections. Religious exemptions were no longer recognized.

From 2001 to 2002, the total number of immunization exemptions granted increased by 23 percent, from 529 students in 2001 to 651 students in 2002.

From 2002 to 2003

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