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U.S. Lawmakers Are Souring on Anti-Vaxxers’ Personal Belief Exemptions

Doctors and politicians look to decrease the number of people opting out of getting vaccinations.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The recent measles outbreaks in Ohio’s Amish county and Disneyland have sparked serious debate over the exemptions many states allow for parents idealogically opposed to vaccinations required by local school systems. There have been 102 cases of measles reported in 14 states since January 1, more than in all of 2012, according to Forbes.

While doctors and other medical professionals are trying to contain the outbreak from spreading any further, lawmakers and research organizations are attempting to come up with solutions to prevent future outbreaks (of measles and other contagious diseases) from occurring. On Wednesday, two state senators in California proposed a bill that would eliminate the “personal belief exemption” option that currently allows parents to refuse to vaccinate their children.

The findings of a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that legislation that narrowed parents’ exemptions options could bring down the opt-out rates.

“What we showed was that there was an association between rates of exemptions and the ease of obtaining an exemption,” Saad Omer, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the lead of the study, told the Guardian. “The more difficult it is to obtain an exemption, the lower the rate of exemption, and the lower the rate of disease.”

At least 20 states, including California, currently allow “personal belief” as an option for vaccination exemption for parents. And of the 14 states where measles cases are currently reported, 10 of them allow such an exemption. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in addition to personal belief, all states also allow medical exemptions, and many allow citizens to decline vaccinations for religious reasons.

In some exemption-permitting states, such as California and Oregon, recent laws have attempted to undo the opt-out trend by requiring parents to visit a doctor and watch an educational video before continuing the vaccine exemption process. However, the state senators in California believe that the legislation allowing personal belief exemptions should be repealed totally and as quickly as possible.

"We shouldn't wait for more children to sicken or die before we act," Sen. Richard Pan (D), who is also a pediatrician, said at a Wednesday news conference. "Parents are letting us know our current laws are insufficient to protect their kids."

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