Vaccination exemptions raise risk

Most kids enter elementary school with the shots they need to protect them from childhood disease.

Most kids enter elementary school with the shots they need to protect them from childhood disease.

But two reports issued in August show why public health officials worry that school systems may be allowing too many exceptions to vaccine requirements.

And those exemptions — for medical, religious or philosophical reasons — may put some kids’ collective immunity at risk.

Roughly vive percent of students entering kindergarten were exempt from at least one required vaccine last year, but individual states excused up to seven percent of the youngsters from shots, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month.

All American states allow exemptions for medical reasons such as allergies or immune system problems.

All but two — Mississippi and West Virginia — allow them on religious or philosophical grounds, such as refusing intrusive medical care.

There have been some efforts to tighten exemption requirements.

Washington state last year imposed a new rule that parents have to meet with a health-care provider before being granted a philosophical exemption.

The proportion of kindergarteners with exemptions dropped from 6 percent to 4.5 percent from the year before

A similar change has been proposed in California in a bill introduced by an assemblyman who is a pediatrician.

According to the CDC report, nine states had exemption rates of 4 percent or higher, led by Alaska at 7 percent, while 10 states had exemption rates of under 1 percent, led by Mississippi at 0.01 percent.

But nationwide, the CDC says, about 95 percent of kids starting elementary school last year had received at least a couple of doses of vaccines against most childhood diseases like measles, mumps, diphtheria and pertussis.

Of more than 4.1 million incoming kindergarteners nationwide, more than 89,000 were exempted from vaccinations.

Relatively few exemptions — 11,000 to 13,000 a year — were for medical concerns. CDC officials note that exemptions tend to cluster in certain communities, leaving those children more vulnerable to outbreaks.

A new, separate analysis of medical exemptions — done by scientists at Emory University in Atlanta and published online Aug. 30 by

The Journal of Infectious Diseases — also shows major differences in standards for excusing kindergarteners from state to state. The analysis covers seven years, from 2004 through 2011.

States that had the easiest standards for granting medical exemptions approved nearly half-again as many exemptions as states with the toughest requirements.

Researchers rated the exemptions based on six administrative requirements: a written doctor’s statement of need; a separate medical exemption form; approval from the health department; certification that the exempting physician can practice in the state; annual approval and notarization of exemption forms.

Each requirement was given a one-point score, and states that had zero or one of the requirements were ranked “easy” — 30 fit that category.

Seventeen states were rated 2, or “medium.” Three states were rated 3 or above, and categorized as “difficult.”

Medical exemptions were granted permanently — throughout the child’s school years — in seven states and temporarily only in five, with the rest allowing some combination. Experts say medical exemptions should be periodically revisited because children and vaccines change over time.

Saad Omer, senior author of the Emory study, said it appears that some parents and physicians are more likely to seek medical exemption from vaccines in jurisdictions where they are easy to obtain, even though almost all states also allow parents to seek philosophical or religious exemptions, too.

Contact Scripps health and science writer Lee Bowman at BowmanL@shns.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Getting exercise at the Lindsay Thurber track in Red Deer

A handful of people visited the Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School track… Continue reading

Protests large but peaceful after new charges in Floyd case

MINNEAPOLIS — Demonstrations across the U.S. to condemn racism and police abuses… Continue reading

Former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz joins Enbridge board of directors

CALGARY — Former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has been appointed… Continue reading

Solidarity together: Central Albertans protest in Red Deer against racism

There’s no such thing as a little bit of racism. Even one… Continue reading

Alberta Golf set to resume tournament play in June

McLennan Ross Alberta Golf Junior Tour starts July 2

Part II: Calkins says Canada can’t sustain long-term shutdown

Reopening Alberta now is a ‘difficult balancing question’

Don’t sacrifice our planet for the sake of the economy

“Never waste an opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Machiavelli, the author… Continue reading

Turnbull hopes hockey helmet-sticker fundraiser helps heal home province

Blayre Turnbull knows how it feels to lose a parent at a… Continue reading

Hulking lineman Derek Dennis has experienced racism while playing in Canada

At six foot three and 345 pounds, Derek Dennis is an imposing… Continue reading

CMT special focuses on good news work of everyday heroes

NASHVILLE — Country stars highlighted the heroic work of citizens and communities… Continue reading

‘#Blessed’ doc looks at millennial appeal of C3 Church in Toronto

TORONTO — With a trendy vibe, slick marketing and celebrity members, some… Continue reading

Hydroxychloroquine does not prevent COVID after exposure to the virus: study

Hydroxychloroquine does not prevent COVID after exposure to the virus: study

Most Read