School Vaccination Opt-Outs on the Rise

December 21st, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Why are more families seeking immunization exemptions?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

We recently called out a disturbing story about parents ordering lollipops infected with chicken pox in an effort to build their kids’ immunity without shots. The unregulated “lollipox” have been licked by infected kids and sold via social media sites like Facebook to parents seeking alternatives to vaccines.

Just a week later, an Associated Press story swept the country’s newspapers, reporting that a rising number of parents in more than half the states nationwide are opting out of school shots for their kids. And in eight states, more than one in 20 public school kindergarten students aren’t getting the vaccines required for school attendance.

The reasons for opting out, the AP reports, vary from medical to religious to philosophical: “Some doubt that vaccines are essential. Others fear that vaccines carry their own risks. And some find it easier to check a box opting out than to get the shots and required paperwork.”

Still, overall vaccination rates remain high, at 90 percent for vaccines including polio, measles, hepatitis B and chicken pox, and in some states, exemption rates are lower than 1 percent for kids entering school for the first time. But officials are concerned about possible outbreaks in states with higher exemption rates, such as Alaska (9 percent), Colorado (7 percent), Minnesota (6.5 percent) and Vermont and Washington (6 percent) – particularly as those seeking exemptions tend to cluster, according to one researcher. Pockets in rural counties in northeast Washington have seen exemption rates as high as 50 percent in recent years.

One in 10 parents surveyed in a Journal of Pediatrics study said they’d refused or delayed shots mainly because of safety concerns – in particular, they fear vaccines are more dangerous for the kids than the diseases themselves.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunization expert Dr. Lance Rodewald told the AP that it’s not impossible that diseases like polio and diphtheria could make a comeback in the US. "Polio can come back. China was polio-free for two decades, and just this year, they were infected from Pakistan. And there is a big outbreak of polio in China now. The same could happen here," he said, citing outbreaks of Hib disease (which can lead to meningitis) among the Amish, who do not consistently vaccinate their children.

Do you get your children vaccinated? Do you think it should be easier or more difficult to get an exemption from childhood vaccinations? Sound off here.