NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 7, 2010

The number of parents in greater New York asking authorities to exempt their children from school immunization requirements is steadily rising, despite assurances from scientists and public health officials that childhood vaccines are safe and essential to stopping the spread of infectious diseases, says the Wall Street Journal. 

Parents can ask schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to excuse their children from the vaccination requirements for medical and religious reasons.  Exemption rates on religious grounds -- which are usually granted with little or no questioning -- have risen sharply in each of the states over the past several years, according to data supplied by state health departments: 

  • New Jersey has seen the biggest rise; the number of its religious exemptions has grown eightfold since the 2005-2006 school year, with the tally at 3,865 students this school year.
  • New York state granted religious exemptions to 3,615 students in 2008, more than double the rate from 1999, according to the latest figures available.
  • In Connecticut, the number of students entering school with a religious exemption rose last year to 455, up from 248 in 1999.
  • As a percentage of all students, those with religious exemptions remain tiny -- below 1 percent -- in each state. 

While many people question the safety of vaccines, experts say there's no reason to consider the shots harmful.  Indeed, the experts say it is the refusal to immunize that risks children's health and the health of babies too young to be fully immunized.  Studies have found the chance of unvaccinated children getting measles, for instance, is 22 to 35 times the rate of vaccinated children, the New England Journal of Medicine reported last year. 

For that reason, public health officials expressed alarm at the numbers, however small, of vaccine exemptions.  "These diseases haven't gone away. They are just a plane ride away, and unvaccinated kids can present a danger not only to themselves but to other kids in the school," says Dr. Guthrie Birkhead, New York state's deputy commissioner for public health. 

Source: Jonathan D. Rockoff, "More Parents Seek Vaccine Exemption Despite Assurances; Fear of Childhood Shots Drives Rise," Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2010. 

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