Calling Their Own Shots: Parents Seek Vaccine Exemptions

Over the past five years, more and more parents in half the states in the US have been choosing not to have their children receive required vaccines. In eight states, more than 1 out of 20 kindergartners do not get their school shots for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.

The immunization schedule from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians now recommends that children receive 25 shots in their first 18 months of life, a higher number than ever. The sheer number of shots is causing some parents to hesitate about having to yet again hold onto a weeping child shrinking from a needle. Some parents think that the risks of vaccinating are greater than not; others “find it easier to check a box opting out than to get the shots and required paperwork.” Some parents have chosen not to have their children receive any vaccinations; others have their children receive some of the older shots such as the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), and opt out of one or two shots, such as that for chickenpox or some of the newer ones (such as that for HPV).

States in the West and in the Upper Midwest had the highest exemption rates, an Associated Press survey found:

For its review, the AP asked state health departments for kindergarten exemption rates for 2006-07 and 2010-11. The AP also looked at data states had previously reported to the federal government. (Most states do not have data for the current 2011-12 school year.)

Alaska had the highest exemption rate in 2010-11, at nearly 9 percent. Colorado’s rate was 7 percent, Minnesota 6.5 percent, Vermont and Washington 6 percent, and Oregon, Michigan and Illinois were close behind.

Mississippi was lowest, at essentially 0 percent.

The AP found 10 states had exemption rate increases over the five years of about 1.5 percentage points or more, a range health officials say is troubling.

Those states, too, were in the West and Midwest – Alaska, Kansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Arizona saw an increase that put that state in the same ballpark.

In some rural areas of northeastern Washington, rates for exemptions from vaccines have risen above 20 percent and even as high as 50 percent.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that 61 percent of more than 200 pediatricians surveyed in Washington state agreed to parents’ requests to space out or delay vaccines. Doctors are most likely to consider postponing hepatitis Bvaricella (chickenpox), and polio vaccines for four months or more. But doctors insist on giving these vaccines on scheduleHib (which prevents meningitis and pneumonia); pneumococcal immunization (which prevents pneumonia and ear infections)  and DTaP (which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough).

What gives? The study authors suggest that doctors are engaged in a tricky balancing act. “Primary care physicians should be recognized for seeking to immunize their patients against common and devastating diseases of infancy while maintaining a therapeutic alliance with parents,” the authors [of the study] wrote.

In other words: We’ll bend a bit so we don’t alienate parents. But we’re going to make darned sure kids get their shots.

When it comes to their own kids, 96 percent of the surveyed pediatricians said they would stick to the recommended vaccination schedule.

Many of the parents seeking exemptions are convinced that the diseases their children could get from a vaccine are worse than the diseases the vaccines are protecting a child from. Sabrina Paulick of Ashland, Oregon, and the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, says, “I don’t think vaccines are what saved the world from disease”; she attributes advances in public health to “effective sewer systems, nutrition and hand-washing.” Claims of a “connection” between autism and the MMR made by the British doctor Andrew Wakefield in 1998 continue to influence parents, even though the medical journal, The Lancet, that originally published Wakefield’s study has retracted it;  scientists have pointed out that his research was fraudulent; more and more evidence refutes a vaccine-autism link.

Childhood vaccinations are definitely a topic evoking a great deal of emotion. Parents who have chosen not to vaccinate have often invested significant time and energy in searching for information about vaccines and their potential dangers. It only takes one account of a child “injured” after receiving immunizations to make a parent wary.

Jennifer Margulis, a mother of four who also lives in Ashland,  simply states that ”Many of the vaccines are unnecessary, and public health officials don’t honestly know” what the effects of giving all those vaccines are to small children. Parents who make such claims about “vaccine safety” have the upper hand over scientists talking about the technicalities of herd immunity (when a significant portion of a population is immunized against a disease and therefore provides protection for those who are not immunized). What parent isn’t worried about keeping their children safe? A survey published in Pediatrics in October found that 1 out of 10 parents say they have delayed or skipped some vaccines for their children.

But 10 infants died of whooping cough last year in California, which saw 2,100 cases of the disease; only one child had receive their first dose of the vaccine. Measles rates are also at their highest in 15 years in the US. Autism is not an infectious disease; is not life-threatening, like measles or whooping cough. Seeking to keep a child safe by postponing or opting out of vaccines may seem best, but is it?


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Photo by lancefisher

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wchi wink
.3 years ago

Vaccines are not to be blindly trusted!
Do your research people!

Mit W.
Mit Wes3 years ago

There once was a girl named Ophelia,
who shunned shots for measles, mumps and diphtheria.
Her excuses were inane,
then measles attacked her brain,
and now she has permanent amnesia !

John Duqesa
Past Member 3 years ago

Well, they propose nonsense, snake oil and/or unproven "remedies" or bizarrely, "good nutrition" to prevent illness. It's quite amazing the stupidity of it.

Mit W.
Mit Wes3 years ago

John D. It seems a lot of those screaming that vaccines and other drugs are solely money grabbing schemes of, "Big Pharma", are those most likely to financially gain from such bashing as they are the purveyors of homeopathic alternatives? One might say that its a conspiracy of, "Big Homo" !

Jillian E.
Jillian Edwards3 years ago

As a child I remember how polio and TB were rife and immunisation mandatory. Also Measles and Whooping Cough were recommended and I was given them. This was in the 1940s. Despite the jabs I have no immunity to TB and still contracted Whooping Cough every time it came round until I was in my teens. Mumps and Chickenpox however, were not considered serious enough and parents were encouraged to let their children catch them naturally.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

I think there was an Indian girl named Rahima, though, and there was a British lab technician who caught it in the lab, though.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

By the time I was born in 1970, a doctor told my mom not to worry about the smallpox vaccine. The one in a million risk of dying of the shot was worse than the likelihood of getting smallpox without warning in the United States. He figured there would be time for vaccination if smallpox were found in the USA. Besides, the disease was eradicated in the wild hardly ten years later.

Reader's Digest reported that the last case was in Merke, Somalia in 1977.

John Duqesa
Past Member 3 years ago

Yes Christopher. But the loony conspiracy theorists will still say that "Big Pharma" and the rest just want to kill us all!

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

I think the disease is more dangerous than the vaccine. That is why we have vaccines. Doctors are not sadistic or idiots.

Why do you think my doctor for example had me take Avandia if it has a heart attack risk? Because the immediate risk of uncontrolled diabetes is worse.

Why do you think surgeons risked my life with surgery and radiologists risked my life with radiation in 1997?
Because the immediate risk of dying of testicular cancer was considerably stronger than the risks of surgery or radiation.

Now I had a roommate in 1990 born with 3/4 of his heart. Presumably that was a problem needing fixing. It took a lot of operations to fix and the last one killed him. Yes, medicine has risks. But doing nothing also has risks.

Medical science is about statistical odds. Most of the time you are safer following the doctors' advice than ignoring it.

Until gods practice medicine, there will always be risks in medicine because humans practice medicine scientifically with the best guess they have as humans. The human body is not an exact science. We can't save everyone. There are always people who die from drugs/medicines or vaccines.

I agree that vaccine preservatives are a bad idea.

But we have come a long way from when infectious disease and some diseases like cancer claimed life without mercy. We have saved millions, even billions, in the past century with vaccines and antibiotics/drugs, undoubtedly.

In the long run of the human race, we have undoubtedly w

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Yes, measles does kill.... Gone With the Wind... I regret to inform you Charles Hamilton [bravely died of] measles Mrs. Hamilton, in a letter.

Army camp. Nice place to pick up a childhood illness if you spent all your life on a plantation.