Rising Exemptions for School Vaccinations

Vaccination avoidance brings fear of disease outbreak

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Before children can enter kindergarten, they're required to have a number of vaccinations against disease. But a growing number of kids are heading to school without their shots.

According to an analysis by the Associated Press, more than 1 in 20 public school kindergarten students in eight U.S. states don't have all their vaccinations.

Parents have chosen to opt out of vaccinating their children. This has public health officials worried that the diseases vaccines guard against – like measles and whooping cough – will return from near-extinction.

"Vaccinate your children before sending them to school."

The Associated Press found that more than half of U.S. States have seen rises in requests for vaccine exemptions over the past five years. The states with the highest number of exemptions are in the Upper Midwest and the West. The data came from state health departments.

In Washington State, 6 percent of public school parents have opted out. In Indiana, there have been recent outbreaks of chickenpox in schools where parents have skipped out on the required vaccine. Northern California saw a fatal outbreak of whooping cough in late 2010.

The reasons for the exemptions vary. Some parents believe that vaccines put their children at risk for other health problems and neurological issues. Others object to the government mandating that their kids get shots. The number of shots given at a young age is of concern to certain parents.

Despite these parental concerns, doctors and public health officials still advocate for 100 percent vaccination in schools. Many studies have shown that there is no link between vaccination and autism, a theory that had been widely discredited.

To give one example, a study in the journal Pediatrics showed that children who were vaccinated had no adverse effect on their neuropsychological outcome seven to ten years later, compared to children who were not vaccinated.

The vast majority of parents are still taking their doctor's advice and vaccinating their children. But those who don't put other children at risk, according to health officials. If an outbreak occurs, a vaccinated child can still get sick. The power of vaccines comes from every member of a group being vaccinated.

Public health officials warn that although people have the impression that diseases like polio and diphtheria are safely in the past, those diseases can still come back.

Dr. Lance Rodewald, an immunization expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave an example: In the 1990s, Russia experienced a diphtheria outbreak because vaccination coverage had gone down.

Scientists don't yet know the threshold for an outbreak – or the percentage of exemptions needed to allow a disease to gain a foothold in a community. But they worry that current exemption rates are dangerous for students.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 7, 2011
Last Updated:
December 10, 2011