Immunization exemption rates have seen a steady rate of increase over the past several years. This rate of increase picked up in 2019 in many different states, including Texas. The rates are now at the highest levels seen in recent years.
While vaccinations are generally mandatory, there is a process whereby people have the ability to request an exemption from vaccination requirements. These exemptions fall generally into three categories; religious, medical and personal beliefs. Nearly all states allow for exemptions that fall into one of these three categories. All state statutes allow for a medical exemption. In other words, if receiving a vaccination will have harmful consequences, the law decides that it is best not to force the child to receive it. Fifteen out of the fifty states have laws that permit an exemption to vaccination laws based on personal beliefs. Recently, several states have passed laws that cut back on some of the exemption provisions. For example, the New York State Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law by the governor that repealed the religious exemption to vaccinations whereby parents could fill out a form stating religious grounds for refusing injections for their children.
However, while the new laws are attempting to reduce the ability to get an exemption, the rates of parents relying on an exemption are actually increasing. The Centers for Disease Control publishes the immunization exemption rates from various vaccines. They publish the National Immunization Survey to inform the public of child vaccination rates. This data has indicated that the rates are on the rise as more attention has been given to the issue and parents take a position on either side.
There are several different factors that result in children not receiving vaccinations. The first two factors are location and insurance, two factors which are generally unrelated to any sort of objection. Rural children and those who are uninsured will usually not have vaccination rates as high as others. These reasons have nothing to do with objection or conscious decisions to forego vaccinations. Instead, these children are in families that simply cannot obtain vaccinations for them. The highest rate of exemptions in the country was found in Oregon, where the rate was 7.6%.
This trend of increasing exemption rates can be seen in Texas. For example, in the Georgetown School District, located in Central Texas, the rate of vaccination exemptions has practically doubled in the last five years. The rate now stands at 2.36 percent, and this district seems to be a microcosm of the national trends. The rate in this particular district is double the statewide rate of 1.2 percent. In the larger Williamson County, the exemption rate is also nearly double the statewide average after seeing a significant climb in recent years.
In Texas, the two primary ways for families to obtain exemptions are for either medical or conscientious reasons. Interestingly enough, some of the highest rates of exemptions in that particular county in Texas are found in some of the district’s private schools. This may be reflective of the fact that parents who send their children to private schools want to have an extra degree of control over their children which they further manifest by seeking a vaccination exemption.
It is important to remember that vaccination exemption rates are measured on a per vaccine basis. Some families choose to seek an exemption for one particular vaccine, yet decide to receive all of the rest of them. Thus, if the vaccination exemption rate is two percent, it does not mean that one in every 50 children have received no vaccines whatsoever. It simply means that two percent of children have not had that particular vaccine.
The trend in Texas mirrors what has been happening nationwide. The recent outbreak of measles along with an increase in attention paid to the issue of vaccines has resulted in a growing number of families taking their own position on the matter. While states are attempting to make obtaining an exemption more difficult, at the same time, parents are increasing their attempts to receive these exemptions.
Other studies have confirmed the fact that the numbers from one district in Texas are not isolated. The rise in exemptions is also occurring in major metropolitan areas. Many families had been under the impression that some of the diseases that the vaccine is aimed at preventing were eradicated. For example, in 2000, public health officials had declared the end of measles. As a result, some families had decided not to have their children vaccinated for a disease that was no longer believed to exist. Other families view these exemptions as a matter of personal choice. Given the greater focus on individual liberties, opinions on this matter will likely continue to diverge.
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