NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

More Kids Skip Vaccinations

November 29, 2011

More parents are opting out of school shots for their kids.  In eight states now, more than 1 in 20 public school kindergartners aren't getting all the vaccines required for attendance, an Associated Press (AP) analysis found.  This growing trend has health officials worried about outbreaks of diseases that once were all but stamped out.

  • The AP analysis found more than half of states have seen at least a slight rise in the rate of exemptions over the past five years.
  • States with the highest exemption rates are in the West and Upper Midwest.
  • Alaska had the highest exemption rate in 2010-2011, at nearly 9 percent.
  • Colorado's rate was 7 percent, Minnesota 6.5 percent, Vermont and Washington 6 percent -- Oregon, Michigan and Illinois were close behind.
  • Mississippi was lowest, at essentially 0 percent.

Rules for exemptions vary by state and can include medical, religious or -- in some states -- philosophical reasons.

  • Some parents are skeptical that vaccines are essential and others fear vaccines carry their own risks.
  • Some find it easier to check a box opting out than the effort to get the shots and required paperwork schools demand.
  • Still others are ambivalent, believing in older vaccines but questioning newer shots against, say, chickenpox.
  • The number of shots is also giving some parents pause -- by the time most children are 6, they will have been stuck with a needle about two dozen times.

To be sure, childhood vaccination rates remain high overall, at 90 percent or better for several vaccines, including those for polio, measles, hepatitis B and even chickenpox.  In many states, exemptions are filed for less than 1 percent of children entering school for the first time.

Health officials worry when some states have exemption rates climbing over 5 percent.  Even more troubling are pockets in some states where exemption rates much higher.  In some rural counties in northeast Washington, for example, vaccination exemption rates in recent years have been above 20 percent and even as high as 50 percent.

Source: Mike Stobbe, "More Kids Skip School Shots in 8 States," Associated Press, November 28, 2011.


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