The recent outbreak of measles that originated in Disneyland in California this past December and spread to seven states, infecting 147 people, has caused increased concern among individual states as to the rising rates of unvaccinated children in the United States today and the possible health dangers this trend poses.
Presently there are no federal requirements that parents must vaccinate their children, it is left to fall under the jurisdiction of individual states to determine and enforce their own laws and policies regarding vaccinations. The (CDC) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does however make recommendations that most states typically base their policy’s on, this is called the suggested vaccination schedule for children and adults. Based upon the CDC’s suggested vaccination schedule individual states can require that children are up-to-date on their vaccination schedule in order to attend school or daycare, unless they are granted a state approved vaccination exemption.
What Are The Requirements For Vaccination Exemption
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, every state in the U.S. allows exemptions for medical reasons such as: children who have compromised immune systems due to chemotherapy cancer treatments as well as those who have congenital problems affecting their immune system. And though all fifty states have legislation that requires specific vaccinations for students, the exemptions allowed vary from one state to another.
Currently almost all states allow vaccine exemptions for people whom it is against their religious beliefs. Twenty states allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to vaccinations for moral, personal, or other beliefs and all states allow exemptions for medical reasons; but there is no one size fits all approach vaccination exemptions. One thing all fifty states do have in common is the growing concern that the number of unimmunized people in the United States is increasing, which can pose and serious health threat to the public. Because of this many states have begun considering new legislation that addresses vaccination exemptions by either eliminating the exemption all together or requiring more stringent documentation of the parents or guardian’s reasons exemption.
Other legislation being considered is based more on providing parents with statistical information such as; providing a web site or other means of the school’s immunization rates, informing parents of whether a student in the school is in attendance that is not immunized, and requiring parents or guardians who claim a personal belief exemption to provide a note from a qualified physician stating they have been fully informed of benefits of vaccination and the serious potential health hazards of not being immunized.
Balancing Individuals Rights With Health and Welfare
As states struggle with balancing protecting the rights of individuals personal, moral, or religious beliefs with the health and safety of its citizens, advocacy groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center are taking aim at the new legislation being proposed and passed and lobbying against them. Advocates argue that people should be able to decline mandatory vaccines due to personal or philosophical reasons or beliefs and of course there is the common fear shared by parents who do not vaccinate their children of a link between vaccinations and autism. And even though studies have been unable to show a link between autism and vaccinations it is likely this battle will rage on.
What studies do indicate is that there is far greater risk of serious diseases in not being vaccinated than there is of injury or death from a vaccine for the vast majority of the public. We can also clearly see that the recent outbreak of measles that affected seven states and 147 people that are known of is a definite indicator that the problem continues to grow rather than decline and is cause for concern for everyone’s health and safety, most especially children.
What is Working to Solve the Problem
A study was conducted by The Health Affairs to determine what effect the state rules had on the number of vaccination exemptions and across the board it was found to have reduced significantly the number of exemptions granted. States that had few barriers (rules) had the highest rates of non-medical exemptions and those that had more rules and regulations had significantly lower rates of exemptions. The study also showed that the states that implemented tougher standards to be granted a vaccination exemption had lower incidence of disease, i.e. states with the lower exemption rates had 7.3 pertussis cases per 100,000 people, while states with higher exemption rates reported more than twice as many cases of pertussis with 16.06 per 100,000 clearly indicating that fewer vaccination exemptions resulted in fewer cases of disease.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
In conclusion, what experts in the field and the study suggests is that vaccinating children (and adults) while may pose a risk to a very small percentage of the population for clinically unknown reasons, the risk of contracting the disease is much greater than the risk associated with getting a vaccine. And though states are doing a balancing act, they are trying to create laws to improve their policies that will protect the people of the United States and still encourage parents and guardians to get their children up-to-date with the federal CDC’s suggested vaccination schedule. These measures are seen as encouraging in tackling the problem and reversing the rising rates of unvaccinated people in the country.