Health

State Laws Make it More Difficult to Shield Children from Vaccines

| by Jared Keever

It is becoming increasingly difficult for concerned parents to keep their kids from being immunized against various diseases. Vaccinations, like the MMR vaccine that guards against measles, mumps and rubella, are typically required for children prior to entering public school.

A research letter recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association points out that state legislatures have tried 31 times in the period since 2009 to make it easier for parents to obtain exemptions from immunization of their children. Under those proposed bills exemptions could be granted for personal or religious reasons. None of the bills passed.

However, in the same period, five bills were proposed that sought to make such exemptions more difficult to obtain. Three of those bills passed in Washington, California, and Vermont. 

This is a positive trend argues bioethicist from New York University, Arthur Caplan.

”The trend has been towards enacting legislation to make exemptions harder," Caplan said. "I think making exemptions available, but tough [to obtain], is the right stance for society to take.”

The number of parents opting out of immunization for their children was alarming to public health officials in Washington State. There the number of kindergartners whose parents had opted them out of immunization had more than doubled in the decade ending in 2008. Many feared the number — which topped out at 7.6 percent — could create a hole in the population that would allow certain diseases, like measles—which had recently come back, to spread.

Other officials point that the internet has helped to spread false information and exacerbate fears. One famous case was the British surgeon, Andrew Wakefield, who claimed the MMR vaccine was linked to the onset of autism.

“With the Internet, you can have one cranky corner of Kentucky ending up influencing Indonesia,” said Heidi Larson, a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In states like Washington, parents can still obtain an exemption but it has become harder to do so. They now must obtain a doctor’s approval and signature. After enacting the legislation in 2012 the opt-out rate fell in Washington by 25 percent.

It's not about what's just good for my child. It's about what's good for the neighbor's child who might have a high risk for disease," Arthur Caplan said. "The stakes are high.”

Sources:  Healthline, Live Science, New York Times