More Children Skipping Vaccines In Some States

More Children Skipping Vaccines In Some States

November 29th, 2011 // 1:36 pm @

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is a question that continues to concern parents nationwide. And a new analysis found that, in eight US states, more than 1 in 20 public school kindergartners are not receiving all the vaccines required for school attendance. And in more than half of all states, there has also been a slight increase in the rate of exemptions over the past five years.

The issue has “really gotten much worse,” Mary Selecky, secretary of health for Washington state, tells the Associated Press, which conducted the analysis. In Washington, for instance, 6 percent of public school parents have opted out of vaccinations for their children. Rules for exemptions vary by state and can include medical, religious or – in some states – philosophical reasons, the AP notes (read here).

Health officials have not identified an exemption threshold that would likely lead to outbreaks, the AP writes, but there are concerns as exemption rates climb over 5 percent in some states. The average state exemption rate has been estimated at less than half that, although the AP adds that, in some rural counties in northeast Washington, rates are above 20 percent and even as high as 50 percent.

Why are rates climbing in some locales? There is ongoing concern that vaccine side effects can outweigh any benefits, a belief sparked by mistrust in government health officials and the medical community. A notable example was the recent scandal over research linking autism to vaccines, even though a new federal analysis maintained vaccines are safe for children (see here and here).

Such skepticism is fueled by the Internet and media reports, according to Amanda Dempsey, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan, who was lead author in a recent study that found up to 13 percent of parents of young children now use an alternative vaccination schedule. The study was published in Pediatrics.

“We are being told this by every government official, teacher, doctor that we need vaccines to keep us safe from these diseases. I simply don’t believe that to be true. I believe all the diseases in question were up to 90 percent in decline before mass vaccines ever were given. I don’t think vaccines are what saved the world from disease. I think effective sewer systems, nutrition, and handwashing (are the reasons),” Sabrina Paulick of Ashland, Orergon, a part-time caregiver for the elderly and a mother of a 4-year-old daughter, tells the Associated Press.

The issue of parent decision making also reflects the ongoing controversy over a Merck vaccine – the Gardasil shot used to prevent HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer. Earlier this year, the vaccine generated renewed controversy in California, where a law was passed that removes parental consent for vaccinating children 12 and older against sexually transmitted diseases. The California Catholic Conference sent notices warning parents that minors do not have adequate judgment about vaccination ..

For its review, the AP asked state health departments for kindergarten exemption rates for the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years. The news service also examined data states had previously reported to the federal government, although most states do not yet have data for the current 2011-12 school year.

What did the AP find? Alaska had the highest exemption rate in 2010-11, at nearly 9 percent. The rate in Colorado was 7 percent, Minnesota 6.5 percent, Vermont and Washington 6 percent, and Oregon, Michigan and Illinois were close behind. However, childhood vaccination rates remain high overall, at 90 percent or better for several vaccines, including polio, measles, hepatitis B and chickenpox.

In many states, exemptions are filed for fewer than 1 percent of children entering school for the first time, the AP writes, adding that Mississippi was lowest, at essentially 0 percent. But the AP also found that vaccine exemptions rose in more than half of the states, and 10 states had increases over the five-year period of about 1.5 percentage points or more.


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