Eradicating Vaccine Exemptions
The independent, not-for-profit, public policy organization Pew Charitable Trusts reports that state exemptions for vaccine exemptions are on the decline. In California, effective July 1, there will no longer be a legal exemption for religious purposes. This is an encouraging trend. As reported by Pew:
After an outbreak of measles last year that was linked to Disneyland, in California, state legislators there rolled back laws that allowed children to go without vaccines based on their parents’ beliefs. Now, children in California can only be exempted from vaccines if their doctor determines immunization to be unsafe for them.
Vermont eliminated its philosophical exemption in 2015, leaving only religious and medical exemptions. In the last year, similar bills to eliminate philosophical or religious exemptions were proposed in at least seven states: Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
In nine states — Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia — lawmakers introduced bills that would require that parents receive information about the risks of skipping vaccination before their children can be granted exemptions. The information would come from their doctor or local health department, or through state-approved resources such as videos and online courses.
It is not all good news. Instead of complying with the laws, many anti-vaccination parents are content with the option of not sending their children to school.
A growing number of Iowa families are choosing not to vaccinate their children under a religious exemption law. The number of children in kindergarten through 12th grade who skipped vaccinations for religious reasons jumped to 6,737, a 13 percent increase from last school year to this school year.
The exemptions tend to occur in communities where parents share opinions about vaccine safety or hold similar religious beliefs.
All 50 states have laws in place requiring that children must be vaccinated as a prerequisite for attending schools. 92 percent of children between 19 months and 35 months are receiving shots to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). However, unvaccinated children still pose a threat to some local communities even if they do not attend school. For children and other people in those communities who can not get immunized for legitimate medical reasons, they remain at risk by the unvaccinated.
In the Disneyland case, 45 percent of the California residents who got sick were unvaccinated. Five years earlier, also in California, 10 children died from whooping cough.
It should come as no surprise that in states where there are religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccinations, there exists pockets of communities where herd immunity can not contain the diseases. On the flip side, in states where these exemptions do not exist, the vaccination rates are among the highest in the nation, and herd immunity is keeping most everyone safe from the ravages of MMR.
State lawmakers, and health advocates everywhere, need to remain diligent and continue to press for the eradication of exemptions for vaccinations, despite the caterwauling and efforts of anti-vaccination organizations and individuals.