Don t exempt children from protection

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Lawmakers in Vermont have reached what looks like a stalemate over whether to end the policy of philosophical exemption, which allows parents to refuse vaccinations that are otherwise required to enroll children in school. Although the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 to eliminate the philosophical exemption, the House voted 93 to 36 to keep it.

Both sides of the debate are passionate in their arguments. Some parents contend that they should be able to decide for themselves whether to vaccinate their children. Yet public health advocates and officials argue that parents who exempt their children from vaccinations are putting not only their own children, but also other children, at risk. Herd immunity occurs when a high enough percentage of children have been vaccinated to ensure that the entire community is protected from an outbreak. Exempting children from vaccinations threatens this immunity. As one Vermont lawmaker, Rep. George Till, pointed out, The question is whether [parents who choose a philosophical exemption] have the right to endanger other children in the school setting.

There are currently 20 states, including Vermont, that permit philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccinations. All but two U.S. states, however, allow for religious exemptions, and every state recognizes doctor-approved medical exemptions. And immunization rates in Vermont have been falling: The state Health Department immunization program manager reports that, while 93 percent of kindergartners received all required immunizations in 2005, only 83 percent had done so in 2010. In fact, Vermont has one of the highest levels of vaccine exemption in the country, with 6 percent of kindergarten children receiving an exemption in 2011, according to an Associated Press analysis.

This relatively low rate of vaccination is most likely responsible for a recent outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) in the state. While there are certainly some children who need to be exempted from vaccines for certain medical issues, philosophical exemptions are a very different story. says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. Their children's health should be precious to parents, so partents should educate themselves in order to allay their fears and do what s best for their kids health. Furthermore, protecting public health is more important than the freedom to yield to baseless fears of vaccines. Parents should not have the right to put other kids at risk by refusing to vaccinate their own children.