Colorado officials are considering tightening the rules for vaccinations, and may make it more difficult for parents to claim religious exemptions for their kids. Right now, opting out of inoculation is typically as easy as filling out a form. But if health officials approve the new policy, parents who want to exempt their kids from vaccine requirements for non-medical reasons will need to receive more education on the benefits and risks of vaccination first.
The state’s health department is considering the rule change in light of recent outbreaks of infectious diseases, like whooping cough and measles, that have been linked to vaccine denial. Federal officials have repeatedly warned parents that failing to vaccinate their kids leaves them vulnerable to contracting these illnesses, which have been on the rise lately. Nonetheless, as the Wall Street Journal reports, more than six percent of kindergartners in some states hadn’t gotten their shots last year:
CREDIT: The Wall Street Journal
Other states with high vaccination refusal rates, like Oregon and Washington, have also made it more difficult for parents to opt their kids out of vaccines.
Anti-vaccine beliefs can have serious public health consequences, since even a few unvaccinated people can allow deadly diseases to spread. For instance, a measles outbreak in Texas last year was traced to an evangelical megachurch whose pastor preached the widely-debunked myth that vaccines can lead to autism. A similar outbreak in the Netherlands originated from a pocket of the country’s fundamentalist Christians who don’t believe in inoculation.
Here in the U.S., many people who are skeptical about vaccines aren’t necessarily religious fundamentalists — and they don’t have to cite religious beliefs in order to opt out their kids. In 19 states, parents can claim a broad “philosophical” exemption to mandatory vaccinations. Since persistent vaccine misinformation has led some U.S. parents to believe it’s simply more natural to refrain from giving their kids too many shots, some of them use that loophole.
A recent survey published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that this issue can be corrected by removing the decision-making dynamic from the equation. When vaccination is presented to parents as an option, they’re more likely to refuse it. But when doctors treat vaccines as a mandatory and routine aspect of medical care — rather than asking parents about their preference — parents are more likely to trust medical professionals’ opinions on the subject.