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Parents Fighting Against Mandatory Vaccines

The Short of It

Despite research that debunks the idea that vaccines cause autism, some parents still don't want to vaccinate their children and are fighting against mandatory vaccines.

The Lowdown

As states try to improve their vaccination rates, some are considering removing "philosophical exemptions" from their laws that allow parents to circumvent the mandatory vaccines required for school admission because of moral objections or safety concerns. The philosophical exemption was the one most often used in Vermont, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with only 87.7 percent of students entering kindergarten in 2014-15 having all required school vaccinations. That is below the 95 percent mark necessary to create "herd immunity" against vaccination-preventable diseases.

In May, the state's legislature made Vermont the first in the nation to repeal the philosophical exemption. In theory, the repeal should greatly increase the number of vaccinated children in Vermont, but many parents who used the philosophical exemption now plan to switch to a religious one. Only 162 children, or 0.2 percent of Vermont schoolchildren, had a religious exemption this school year, according to the health department, but school nurses report that some parents already have switched exemptions.

While some states require documentation of religious beliefs to claim the exemption, it's not required in Vermont. All parents have to do is check a box for the religious exemption and sign a yearly form confirming they have reviewed evidence-based educational material from the health department regarding the risks associated with failing to vaccinate children. Few religions prohibit vaccinations, and according to Pew Research Center, Vermont has the highest percentage of residents who are religiously unaffiliated in the United States. If a significant portion of Vermont school children claim a religious exemption next year, that will indicate parents are simply using the religious exemption as a loophole.

Meanwhile, across the country in Orange County, Calif., thousands of parents from across the state protested against a bill that eliminates both philosophical and religious exemptions from mandatory vaccinations. Despite the organized rally, the measure was approved by the assembly health committee in a 12-6 vote. The proposal cleared the state Senate last month, and if approved on the assembly floor, it will advance to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, who has not taken a position.

The bill was introduced in the wake of the measles outbreak, which started in December at Disneyland Resort and infected 131 people, as an attempt to ensure that immunity levels are high enough in a community to protect against vaccine-preventable diseases. If the bill is signed by the governor, parents could still obtain medical waivers from physicians if their children have health issues. If they choose not to vaccinate for any other reason, parents would have to homeschool their children or place them in independent study.

The Upshot

This makes me incredibly frustrated. Despite all the research that vaccinations are safe and have overwhelming benefits to individuals and communities, how can parents be so misguided? I wonder how these vaccine-opposed parents would feel if their own child got sick from a preventable disease or infected a friend's child. It's unfathomable to me why doctors can't change these parents' minds. Please, parents, do your research and don't be scared away from doing what's right for your child and community: Get your kids vaccinated.

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