Stronger State Law Increases Rates of Childhood Immunizations


According to a new study, a law in the state of Washington designed to discourage exemptions for nonmedical childhood vaccines appears to have been successful. The legislation was passed in 2011. It placed a legal requirement on parents to speak with a physician prior to being able to receive an exemption from childhood vaccinations based on nonmedical reasons. This is credited with causing Washington state’s overall vaccine exemption rate to decrease by more than 39 percent. The most recent year that rates were assessed was 2014, and they remained low.

Stable Rates

Researchers at the Vaccine Center in Atlanta at Emory University realize the rates have gone down and expect this trend to continue. Currently, all states in the United States permit children to not receive vaccinations if there is a medical reason involved. Approximately 47 states permit an exemption from vaccines based on a parent or legal guardian’s religious beliefs as well as personal beliefs or both.

Only Medical Exemptions

There are currently three states that permit only medical exemptions from childhood vaccines. California became the third state last year. Its state’s legislators decided to no longer permit any nonmedical exemptions. California’s new legislation was initiated after an outbreak of measles in 2015 was determined to have come from California’s Disneyland. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it caused more than 187 people to get sick in over 23 states and Washington D.C. It is believed the measles outbreak started with a foreign traveler getting it in another country prior to being at the amusement park. When this person encountered other unvaccinated people, the measles was able to be passed on to many other individuals. According to health officials, this measles outbreak is partly the fault of nonmedical vaccine exemptions. They have left many children in the United States vulnerable to measles as well as other types of infections.

Solid Option

The journal Pediatrics published the study and didn’t clarify exactly why Washington state’s policy was effective. Some have suggested because getting a nonmedical exemption becomes too involved for many parents. When laws are designed to make it harder for parents to get such an exemption; it will test a parent’s resolve. The resulting decrease is often what occurs.


Many believe Washington state’s law could be the fairest way to handle the nonmedical exemption issue. It removes the automatic option from parents. This forces them to discuss the situation and all the options, with a healthcare professional. When the nonmedical exemptions are no longer easy to obtain, and parents speak about it with their pediatrician, many change their minds.

Fact-Based Discussion

There are many parents who are hesitant about having their children vaccinated. The legislation in Washington state makes it possible for parents to have a fact-based discussion about the issue with a medical professional. A parent’s options about vaccination are not being eliminated. This is a way for a parent to get facts and make an informed decision about having their child vaccinated.

Other Exemptions

It is still possible for parents or legal guardians to avoid childhood vaccinations because of religious beliefs. Exemptions can also be given because a parent has a personal or philosophical objection to required immunizations. They will simply need to provide a form that has a signed statement from a healthcare professional stating the parent or guardian has been provided with the required information concerning the risks and benefits of having a child receive immunizations.

Childhood vaccines can cause side effects, and most of them are mild. It’s important for people to realize the symptoms of diseases that can be prevented with a vaccine can be serious or even fatal. Many of these diseases are rare in the United States, but common in many places around the world. A person from the United States who isn’t vaccinated, and comes into contact with a person from another country with a certain disease, runs the risk of infecting their family as well as unvaccinated children.

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