Study Shows Support for Tightening School Vaccine Exemptions
Jul 09, 2013
People who believe in the benefit of immunizations often try to encourage others to vaccinate. They do so because they are motivated by concern for their family and their community. They understand that widespread immunization programs do more than just protect the individual. They help protect entire communities.
Sure, there are times when a person may be vaccinated but not achieve the immunity that was expected. Likewise, there are people who can’t be vaccinated, either because they suffer with certain medical conditions, or they are too young to receive certain vaccines. But this is why vaccinations are beneficial to public health. Statistics show that the more people who are vaccinated, the greater the reduction in overall incidence of disease, which in turn leads to less suffering, hospitalization and death. Therefore, widespread vaccination protect vulnerable members of our society who can’t be vaccinated, who choose not to be vaccinated, or who didn’t achieve optimal immunity from a particular vaccine. That is the beauty of community immunity. And this is the issue at the heart of school vaccination policies.
Unfortunately, under-vaccinated pockets of children in various places across the country are attracting concern. School vaccination policies that have improved public health across our nation are now being undermined by a growing number of parents seeking exemptions out of fear, convenience or misinformation. Parents, who are often complacent about diseases they rarely encounter due to the success of our nation’s widespread vaccination programs, are sometimes choosing to exempt their children from school required vaccines. But in the past few years, in states like California, Washington, Vermont and most recently Oregon, there has been a growing movement to reduce the number of nonmedical exemptions being filed in order to ensure that falling vaccination rates don’t result in the return of dangerous diseases.
A new study out today provides a closer examination of state school vaccination policies and suggests that states with fewer barriers have higher exemption rates. The study indicates that while school immunization policies have historically been able to suppress diseases, the rates of nonmedical exemptions are now increasing and have been associated with resurfacing clusters of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles. The study goes on to explain how states with simpler immunization exemption procedures had nonmedical exemption rates that were more than twice as high as those in states with more-complex procedures. In conclusion, the study suggests that if policy makers are seeking to control exemption rates to achieve public health goals they should consider tightening nonmedical exemption procedures and should add vaccine education components to the procedures by either mandating or encouraging yearly educational sessions in schools for parents reluctant to have their children vaccinated.
But here’s the real kicker.
According to the study, although there were more attempts by state legislatures to broaden exemptions than to tighten them in 2011–13, only bills tightening exemptions passed.
This is encouraging news and demonstrates how effective we can be when we organize parents, providers and public health professionals in a common goal to educate others on the importance of childhood immunizations and how they are achieved through state school vaccination policies. Yet, a recent hearing in Minnesota, where the State Department of Health was calling for school vaccine requirements to match those recommended by the CDC, is a perfect illustration of what we are still up against.
While there will always be a small contingency of people who actively seek to convince others not to vaccinate, we must find ways to speak out in favor of strong immunization policies that help protect the health of our children in school and we must support the public health professionals and policymakers who do the same.
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