According to a report in USA Today and elsewhere, more parents are choosing not to have their children receive their regular childhood vaccinations, even though these vaccinations are considered mandatory for attendance in school in most states. Rules for allowing exemptions differ from state to state, but generally speaking all states permit parents to opt out for specified reasons, including medical, religious, and even “philosophical” concerns. As a result, vaccination rates have declined in many Midwestern and Western states. In eight states now, over 5% of all schoolchildren have not gotten all of the vaccinations allegedly required for school attendance. The state with the most opt-outs is Alaska.
Parents’ reasons for requesting exemptions vary. Some parents are still convinced that there is a connection between vaccinations and autism, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Other parents complain about the large number of vaccinations recommended these days – up to two dozen shots by the time a child is 6 years old – saying that while some vaccinations may be important, perhaps not all of them are. And there’s a widespread distrust the motives of pharmaceutical companies, who promote the vaccines and profit from manufacturing and selling them.
Health officials are concerned that outbreaks of diseases once thought to be a thing of the past may begin to re-occur once the percentage of unvaccinated children exceeds a certain threshold. But no one can say for certain what that threshold might be. In the meantime, there are occasional outbreaks that hint at a future problem, but nothing cataclysmic yet.
My guess is that we will tolerate the current trend toward tolerance of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children until a serious outbreak occurs (if ever). After that, the states will tighten up their vaccination requirements. And perhaps that’s the way it should be, in a democracy. What do YOU think?