Non-Medical Vaccination Exemption Rates Are Growing

Vaccination Exemption rates grow as more parents decide against vaccinating their kids based on religious or philosophical reasons.

All states in the U.S. allow vaccination exemptions for students, and some allow exceptions based on religious or philosophical reasons. (Photo: Sean Locke/Getty Images)

Sep 21, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

More parents are deciding against vaccinations for their children based on non-medical reasons, a new study finds, even in states with stricter opt-out rules.

A letter released this week in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that parents who ask for vaccination exemptions for non-medical reasons are increasing around the country, and the rate at which they’re increasing is speeding up.

The numbers were based on vaccination exemption rate statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the school years 2005 to 2006 and 2010 to 2011.

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After determining the change per year in the nonmedical vaccination exemption rates researchers compared them with states that permit exemptions based on philosophical reasons and states that only allow them for religious reasons. States were also compared based on the effort it took to get a nonmedical exemption due to administrative requirements.

Rates of nonmedical vaccination exemptions in states that permit opting out on philosophical grounds were 2.54 times higher than in states that allow opt-outs only for religious reasons. In states that allow exceptions only on religious grounds, the average annual opt-out rate increase surpassed that of states that permit philosophical exemptions.

States with easier exemption allowances had higher rates of opt-outs than states with more stringent policies.

"Since school immunization requirements play a major role in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States, studies like this underscore the need for states to examine their current exemption policies," author Saad Omer of Emory University said in a news release.

MORE: More California Private School Parents Opting Out of Vaccines

Vaccination exemption rates have become a major public health concern in recent years, as other studies have shown more parents are deciding to refuse or delay their children’s vaccinations.

While some parents opt out for religious reasons, others site health concerns, some believing that vaccines are linked to autism, although a famous study claiming an association has been discredited. Still other parents think that their kids should be exposed to childhood diseases.

Health officials worry that if numbers of parents who opt for vaccine exemptions grow, it could mean substantially higher disease rates.

“The CDC and health departments are doing a good job of increasing vaccine coverage,” Omer told ABC News. “Therefore, rates of vaccine-preventable disease are going down substantially. Parents aren't seeing the actual diseases, so when they hear about real or perceived adverse effects of vaccines, their perception of the risks versus benefits is shifted.”

Do you think parents should be able to get a vaccination exemption for their children based on philosophical grounds? Let us know in the comments.

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