NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 12, 2006

States that make it easy for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children are suffering increased disease rates as a consequence, according to an article published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The findings should be a warning to all parents and state officials who think they can let their guards down on immunizations that are needed to protect both the children and the communities in which they live, says the New York Times.

We saw what happened in Indiana last year when measles broke out among children who had been schooled at home and thus avoided the compulsory shots required of those who attend public schools:

  • At least 34 people became ill, of whom three were hospitalized, one with life-threatening complications.
  • Their families had succumbed to fears that the vaccine was dangerous, forgetting that the disease itself was the real danger.

Now the new article by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Florida and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken a broad look at the rates of whooping cough in the 48 states that allow people to be exempted from required shots for various nonmedical reasons:

  • All 48 of the states allow exemptions based on religious objections, but 19 of them also allow exemptions based on philosophical or other personal beliefs.
  • Some states make it easy for parents to claim an exemption by simply signing a prewritten statement on the school immunization form.
  • Others make it harder by requiring a signature from a local health official, a personally written letter, notarization or annual renewal.

The pendulum has swung too far toward letting parents opt out.  States need to work harder at educating parents about the value of vaccination and should get tougher in granting exemptions, says the Times.

Source: Editorial, "Foolish Vaccine Exemptions," New York Times, October 12, 2006; based upon: Saad B. Omer et al.,"Nonmedical Exemptions to School Immunization Requirements: Secular Trends and Association of State Policies With Pertussis Incidence," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 296 No. 14, October 11, 2006.

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