Getting vaccination exemptions for your children was fairly easy in the past; you just chose from the options, let’s say, personal beliefs, and the family doctor took a pass on your kids. But after the highly publicized measles outbreaks which infected more than 150 people in 17 states, it might get a bit more difficult to keep your children unimmunized and in school.
The outbreaks might have a lasting effect on public health legacy, as lawmakers from at least 10 states are starting to propose tougher legislation that will render exemptions more difficult to obtain. Democrats and Republicans have united under the conviction that the recent measles cases could have been prevented if vaccination rates were higher, which is not possible if exemptions are available for all kinds of reasons. Approaches differed from one statehouse to another, ranging from requiring schools to post immunization rates to eliminating philosophical and religious exemptions from the list.
Lawmakers are positive about the chances that these bills will pass as laws, even though very few are far enough in the process in order to predict the outcome. Many believe that the constant presence of measles updates in the news has helped them make their case. The fact that the proposals have received bipartisan support is also a good sign that legislative committees will be more inclined to pass them in the coming weeks and months. Democrats have introduced legislation in 8 states, while Republicans in 2, Vermont and Texas.
The latest measles outbreak, and the largest one, has originated mid-December in Disneyland, California. The majority of cases could be traced to this state, which also permits both religious and philosophical exemptions. The contagious disease spread to 17 states, 10 of which allow parents to pass on vaccinating their kids on philosophical grounds.
Religious exemptions are much more difficult to obtain, because families need to present extensive documented religious objections or health history that prohibits vaccinations. However, in the light of recent events, 6 of the 10 states which allow easy opt-out laws have already proposed new laws.
Even though almost 80 percent of Americans who took the Reuters/Ipsos poll believe that all children should be vaccinated, the proposals have already received some opposition from a small but vocal community of advocates who support anti-vaccine parents.
Their reasons are varied, ranging from fear that vaccines may cause autism to opposing what they believe to be an intrusive government who should not have a say in parental decisions. Even though links between autism and vaccines have been thoroughly debunked by experts, some parents still refuse to immunize their children for this reason.
This is not the first time local and national anti-vaccine advocates have prevented lawmakers’ efforts to curb exemptions. Last year, Colorado introduced a measure requiring parents to consult with a doctor before refusing vaccination or to effectuate an online course about immunization. Anti-vaxers, which is the name of these anti-vaccine organizations, lobbied and testified in hearings, bringing the end of the measure in the Senate.
The new crop of proposals will have a hard time gaining traction in the states with easy exemption rules, because decades-old court decisions will most likely make it impossible to change the legislation. For example, Maryland’s Supreme Court has ruled in 1982 that exemptions based on religious reasons could not be denied, for it would lead to discrimination.
But not all states are the same; since 1979, Mississippi’s Supreme Court has advocated for mandatory vaccination for school enrollment. The lawmakers believed that exemptions, irrespective of their grounds, represent an unnecessary risk for children. This year, however, Mississippi lawmakers have started a new attempt of re-introducing philosophical exemptions, but such efforts have been constantly shot down in the past.
Health and local authorities are concerned that many of the exemptions are requested by parents who think it’s easier this way. Tom Shanahan, public information officer for the Idaho Department of Health, said that less than 1 percent of children in the state are completely unvaccinated, but the rate of exemption is 6.3 percent and growing. It is very easy for a parent to write a waiver to exempt their child from one or more vaccinations. This year, Idaho is not among the states to introduce new legislation regarding exemptions.
But even if these proposals pass, it is likely that tougher laws will make parents who do not want to vaccinate their children even more adamant. It is not surprising that some parents have decided to home-school their children after the school denied their appeals to exemption. A lot of parents believe that these proposals represent a violation of the Constitution.
Image Source: Medical Daily
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