How to Get More Parents to Vaccinate Their Kids

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By Lisa Beyer

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine lends additional support to the argument that states should make it at least somewhat difficult for parents to exempt their children from vaccinations required for school entry.

Researchers led by Emory University's Saad Omer found that from the school years 2005-2006 to 2010-2011, parents have taken advantage of nonmedical exemptions at not only an increased but also an accelerated rate. So far, resulting holes in vaccination coverage in the U.S. have enabled whooping cough and measles to make comebacks.

In states that have easy requirements for waivers -- for instance, one parent merely signs a form -- nonmedical exemptions grew on average by 13 percent yearly, to 3.3 percent of all students. In states that make it harder for parents -- for example, by requiring a letter explaining the reason for opting out -- the growth was slower (8 percent yearly) and the percentage of students significantly lower, 1.3 percent.

In what is shaping up to be the worst year for whooping cough in the U.S. since the 1970s -- with 29,000 cases and 14 deaths reported so far -- the study points to a sensible immunization policy. If vaccine waivers are tougher to get, some parents will forgo them out of convenience. Others will see the hurdles as a sign of how seriously society regards immunizations. Either way, more kids will get the vaccines they need for their own health, and that of their classmates.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

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-0- Sep/21/2012 14:45 GMT