Home > Expert Insights, In the News, Preventable Diseases, Science & Research > The Impact of Personal Belief Exemption Policies

The Impact of Personal Belief Exemption Policies

The topic of school vaccine exemptions is heavily debated.  A person may be in favor of vaccinating their own child, yet not feel it’s necessary to impose strong school vaccination policies on others. Some parents who choose to delay or selectively vaccinate their children may be concerned that personal belief exemptions will be eliminated.  Other parents with medically fragile children – who either can’t be immunized for medical reasons, or who are at high risk of complications from preventable diseases – tend to feel it is unfair for a purposely unvaccinated child to endanger the health of others by attending public school.

All you have to do is read the (almost) 200 comments that have appeared on the Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page last week when this topic was brought up for discussion and you’ll immediately see just how passionate people are about school exemption policies.

But how do the policymakers weigh in? 

Interestingly, this question is explored in a recent Nature article entitled “US states make opting out of vaccinations harder.  Legislative efforts aim to tackle rising incidence of disease.”  The article, written by Tara Haelle, explains how states are seeing an increase in preventable diseases, and details how some states are making a more concentrated effort to toughen the laws that govern school immunization policies as a way to help reduce the number of unimmunized students.

The article is quick to clarify that

“The issue is not a partisan one: bills have sponsors in both parties.” 

The author provides specific examples of the growing exemption rates in three specific states which have recently attempted to modify their policies.

“In Washington, 6% of children entering kindergarten in 2010–11 had an exemption; in Vermont, the figure was 6.2%, compared with the US average of 1.5%. In California, exemptions rates rose by 25% between 2008 and 2010.”

The article goes on to explain,

“These figures are alarming policy-makers, who fear that vaccination rates may fall below the threshold where even unvaccinated people are protected.”

Haelle further defines these legislative changes as an attempt by policy makers to address what she calls the “Path of Least Resistance” .    Michele Roberts, communications manager for the Washington Department of Public Health, elaborated on that idea when she was quoted as saying,

“One of the instigators for our laws was the thought that many parents were exempting for convenience.  It was easier to sign the exemption form than to track down records or to get your kid to an appointment.”

Public health departments, like those in WA and CA, are supporting policy changes based on studies that have shown that the existence of personal-belief exemptions, and the ease of getting them, is directly linked to reduced vaccination rates and a growing incidence of disease.

Coincidently, another article in Parade magazine this week, entitled “Why So Many Parents Are Delaying or Skipping Vaccines” , further explains the concerns that these new policies are hoping to address.  The author, Seth Mnookin, who also wrote The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, begins by highlighting a personal story provided by Brendalee Metcalf, one of Every Child By Two’s first parent immunization advocates.

Sadly, Brendalee’s daughter Julieanna was one of five children in Minnesota who contracted Hib along with three children who had either skipped or delayed the Hib vaccine and a child who was too young to have been fully immunized.  Though Julieanna was vaccinated, it was later determined that she had a rare immune deficiency that made the Hib vaccine ineffective in her. Mnookin highlights this story as an example of what can happen when parents choose not to vaccinate and explains,

“They are not simply putting their own kids at risk; they’re also unwittingly jeopardizing newborns, pregnant women, the elderly, and people like Julieanna with preexisting conditions. Those populations are increasingly vulnerable as diseases that we thought had been contained start to return, in larger numbers each year.”

He also provides details about vaccine refusal, stating that

“…while only about 2 percent of parents refuse all immunizations, more than 1 in 10 skip some vaccines or delay the age at which they’re given. Increasingly, these parents tend to be clustered together, creating communities where vaccination rates may have dropped below the levels needed to keep infectious diseases at bay.”

He then addresses one of the biggest concerns.

“One place where herd immunity can quickly be compromised is schools. Currently, at least 19 states allow parents to opt out of childhood inoculations for “philosophical” reasons (nearly every state allows a religious exemption, and all allow medical exemptions), and more and more families are doing so. In 2010 the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the number of area parents who exempted their kindergartener from vaccines had quadrupled since 1990. In 2010, California schools experienced the highest rate of vaccine noncompliance in more than 30 years.”

The Parade article offers a complete discussion of vaccine delay and refusal, and effectively demonstrates how these seemingly isolated parental decisions can truly impact us as a society.

Meanwhile, a small but vocal anti-immunization contingency continues to argue that their rights are being restricted.  However, it’s important that we recognize that their rights remain and only the process by which they have to file for these exemptions has been changed.  New policies, like those in WA. still allow for personal belief  exemptions, but the law now requires parents to discuss immunization benefits with a health care provider before allowing for an immunization exemption, and it appears to be impacted the “path of least resistance”.  The overall exemption rates in the state have already dropped from 6% in 2010-2011 to 4.5% of Kindergartener’s in just one year.  Now we just need to wait to see if similar statistics will be seen in states such as CA, where similar changes were made to the personal belief exemption policies just last month.

As more states consider changes in their school vaccination exemption policies, we will continue to keep our readers updated on how these policies are being received by parents and being supported by public health departments and state legislatures.

  1. Lee
    October 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    100% VACCINE-FREE.


  2. October 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    @Lee – and why pray-tell?


  3. October 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Parents do have a choice, but they must also accept the consequences that if there is a disease outbreak, their children will be sent home – for up to three weeks in most cases, or worse, their child will be one of the infected ones.

    Why, at the time when kids are going to school (5 and up), which is past even the most rabid-anti vaccine individual’s timeline for the whole autism thing, would you still refuse to get your kid immunized?


  4. thedoctorswife
    October 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    thats a good question Lawrence and I can tell you personally its not about autism its about all of the toxic ingredients in the vaccines that keeps me from injecting my kids with poison. There are things in vaccines that you would not dare touch.


  5. novalox
    October 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    thedoctorswife :
    thats a good question Lawrence and I can tell you personally its not about autism its about all of the toxic ingredients in the vaccines that keeps me from injecting my kids with poison. There are things in vaccines that you would not dare touch.

    Have you heard “The dose is the poison?”


  6. Lawrence
    October 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    @tdw – water kills hundreds, if not thousands of people every year…..is it toxic or poisonous?

    Your body creates more formaldehyde through normal metabolism every day than all vaccines on the schedule combined….

    Care to trot out the rest of the standard anti-vaccine myths about “toxins?”


  7. lilady
    October 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I really doubt that “thedoctorswife” is married to a physician.

    I’m underwhelmed by the “wife’s” comment…without any supporting citations about “toxic ingredients in the vaccines”. I also detect a reek of smelly socks.


  8. Tara
    October 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Number of children documented to have died from a vaccine: 0
    Number of children documented to have died from a vaccine-preventable disease: millions
    ‘Nuff said.


  9. Chris
    October 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    thedoctorswife, can you please tell us with actual scientific documentation which ingredients in the DTaP vaccine is more toxic than tetanospasmin, diphtheria toxin and pertussis toxins. Those the very real toxins created by the bacteria that cause those infections. Thank you.


  10. Bob
    October 9, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    What a load of propaganda !! Do your true homework and you’ll discover that vaccine theory is flawed from the start. Disease goes down when sanitation and access to healthy food increases. Malaria rates are high in Africa because in poor rural areas, theres no toilets. Polio rates when up when they started increasing DDT spraying of crops, beaches, & suburbs to control bugs, much like they’re trying to do now, spaying for EEE . Infectious disease goes up the more crap for food & sugar we feed our kids! Infectious disease goes up the we treat symptoms of underlying deficiencies and toxicities instead of correcting the imbalances. It’s time people start connecting the dots and think logically. Our immune systems are failing, yet we spend more per capita than ANY other country . Maybe it’s time to start respecting the temple of our souls.


  11. lilady
    October 9, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Did you happen to wander over to this blog by mistake, Bob?

    Is there a vaccine against malaria(?)…and what is the impact of spraying insecticides in primitive houses and providing mosquito sleeping nets to protect people against this zoonotic disease spread by mosquitoes?

    Which of the vaccines that are listed on the Recommended Childhood Vaccine Schedule are protective against diseases that are spread via the fecal-oral route?

    Which of the vaccines that are listed on the Recommended Childhood Vaccine Schedule are protective against diseases that are spread via airborne routes or contact with oral secretions?

    Which of the vaccines that are listed on the Recommended Childhood Vaccine Schedule are protective against diseases that are blood-borne or spread through vertical or horizontal transmission to infants and young children?

    “Infectious disease goes up the we treat symptoms of underlying deficiencies and toxicities instead of correcting the imbalances.”

    Care to explain that statement Bob? Maybe you should look into “germ theory”, bacteria, viruses and immunology…before you start blathering about “correcting the imbalances”.

    “It’s time people start connecting the dots and think logically.”

    I’m thinking logically and I have “connected the dots”…you ought to try and do that, before you come posting here.

    “Our immune systems are failing, yet we spend more per capita than ANY other country . Maybe it’s time to start respecting the temple of our souls.”

    Really Bob? I’m thinking that G-d, provided human beings with the intellect to understand what causes diseases and the intellect to develop vaccines that protect babies, children and adults from serious, sometimes deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases.


  12. Lara Lohne
    October 10, 2012 at 1:36 am

    My first instinct is that Bob is in fact putinreloaded. The same germ theory denialism came from his keyboard and Bob is stating here.

    As an adult that was raised in an anti-vaccine family, the only vaccine I received as a child was the MMR at 16 and that was just to keep them from taking us out of school again. Since I became an adult, I’ve had an MMR booster just after my son was born in 2007 and a TDaP booster (even though it was my first) in the summer of 2010.

    My medical coverage doesn’t cover adult immunizations unless they are routine boosters. That being the case, I run a very high risk of contracting a VPD and potentially spreading to my children or other children. I don’t want them to suffer because of something I had, and still have, no control over. That being the case, all my children are fully vaccinated.

    If a person wishes to ‘exercise their right’ and opt out of vaccination, fine by me, but I support legislation to make it harder for them to do so, because I believe the majority of parents who do sign an exemption are simply too busy to be bothered by making the appointment to make sure their children’s vaccinations are up to date. Take away the convenience and the exemption rates will drop significantly. We’ve already seen it happen in Washington state. If a parent still wishes to refuse vaccinations for their child, they best not complain when there is an outbreak and their child is removed from school, because it was their choosing to not have their child protected that led to the health department taking extreme measures during a high risk period to keep them as protected as possible.


  13. Chris
    October 10, 2012 at 3:03 am


    Do your true homework and you’ll discover that vaccine theory is flawed from the start.

    Okay, show us you have done your homework and answer a very simple question. I have data from the US Census Bureau on the incidence rates of measles for much of the twentieth century. Now your task is to tell me with relevant evidence (no random websites or news stories, but real scientific papers that are indexed in PubMed) why the incidence rate (morbidity) of measles plummeted 90% in the USA between 1960 and 1970. Do not mention death rates, do not change decades and do not mention any other nation but the United States of America (because England, Wales and Japan are not part of the USA). So here is the data:

    From http://www.census.gov/prod/99pubs/99statab/sec31.pdf
    Year…. Rate per 100000 of measles
    1912 . . . 310.0
    1920 . . . 480.5
    1925 . . . 194.3
    1930 . . . 340.8
    1935 . . . 584.6
    1940 . . . 220.7
    1945 . . . 110.2
    1950 . . . 210.1
    1955 . . . 337.9
    1960 . . . 245.4
    1965 . . . 135.1
    1970 . . . . 23.2
    1975 . . . . 11.3
    1980 . . . . . 5.9
    1985 . . . . . 1.2
    1990 . . . . .11.2
    1991 . . . . . .3.8
    1992 . . . . . .0.9
    1993 . . . . . .0.1
    1994 . . . . . .0.4
    1995 . . . . . .0.1
    1996 . . . . . .0.2
    1997 . . . . . . 0.1


  14. October 10, 2012 at 5:49 am

    @Lara – our old friend PR has too big an ego not to post under his name, I’m sure. Bob is just fixated on the facet of the anti-vaccine sphere that is built about germ-theory denial….plenty of those guys to go around, unfortunately.

    His standard trope of stuff can be easily refuted with sources we’ve already quoted, along with the information on Todd’s page (linked to my name). They have a real problem telling the difference between mortality & incidence.


  15. Pamela Browden (Cossman Children )????????????????????????
    October 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Good evening, I forgot to unprescrible from Shot of Prevention, (HUM) I got an Email.

    Chris, I never did see that # your posted. Still today there is alot of controversary over the use of vaccines. Pros/ Cons? What the CDC, FDA, and all the pharmaceutical companies really need is a child that had taking a vaccine, or the combine vaccines who have had an adverse reaction (offset) to them.(the Cossman). Since vaccines are in (questions).


  1. February 7, 2018 at 11:13 am

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