Although exemptions vary from state to state, all school immunization laws provide exemptions to children for medical reasons. Almost all states grant religious exemptions for people who have religious beliefs against immunizations. Currently, 18 states allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to immunizations because of personal, moral or other beliefs.
Even though it is estimated that only 1 percent of the United States population is unvaccinated, the impact can be large, especially with highly contagious diseases.
Since the 1980’s, there has been a decrease in vaccinations and an increase in the spread of preventable diseases. Millions of deaths are prevented by vaccinations, but according to the World Health Organization, an additional 1.5 million deaths could be prevented across the globe if more people were immunized.
Vaccines work by using the weakened version of a pathogen to imitate, but not cause, an illness in a way that forces the body to develop defensive cells. These cells can then recognize and fight off a future infection should it occur. This process is different from medications because it prevents future illnesses rather than fighting infections that already exist in the body.
Choosing not to vaccinate a child not only puts that child at risk, but everyone around them who is unprotected, including other vulnerable children. Some children can’t get vaccinated because they have compromised immune systems, including children receiving chemotherapy for cancer.
A small percentage of children are allergic to vaccines. They must rely on something known as herd immunity, which is the protection of living among mostly vaccinated people in order to reduce their risk of illness.
The most common reason parents skip vaccines are safety concerns, despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are not dangerous. In fact, the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases are almost always more dangerous than the risks from the vaccine.
Chicken pox, a disease that many parents thought was relatively harmless, killed approximately 100 children a year before the varicella vaccine was introduced in 1995. Chicken pox was a leading cause of necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacterial infections. In comparison, common side effects of the vaccine are soreness and mild fever. The most serious risk of the vaccine is possible seizures which are extremely rare.
Some parents argue that vaccines have been linked to autism, but there is absolutely no proof of that. The most important question is: What is worse, having an autistic child, or losing a child to a disease that could have been prevented?
Diseases that have been avoidable in the U.S. thanks to vaccines have been resurfacing all across the country. Measles was thought to have been eradicated in 2000, but there have been several outbreaks over the past few years, including an outbreak in Disneyland in 2014-2015. After this outbreak, the state of California passed a law abolishing the option for parents to claim a personal belief exemption. The state began requiring children who were entering public school at the start of the 2016 school year to be fully immunized.
Parents need to stop seeing vaccinations as optional. As long as children are not being vaccinated, preventable diseases will continue spreading and eradicated diseases will start to show up again. The best way to prevent this is to make vaccinations mandatory in all 50 states.