Vaccines, designed to protect children, especially those with underdeveloped immune systems, from the most dangerous bacteria on the planet, have been shunned by people who persist in believing now-debunked rumors linking some vaccines to autism. The increasing number of parents who claim a “religious exemption” to immunization in South Carolina is giving the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control cause for concern, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.
“The slightly increasing rates of religious exemptions, particularly in certain parts of the state, are concerning to DHEC because it puts people at increased risk for the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases,” DHEC spokeswoman Adrianna Bradley was quoted as saying.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports laws that eliminate the religious exemption, according to the academy’s website. “I hope that it causes parents to receive information about vaccines, to have conversations with their pediatrician and other health care professionals and rethink why they had concerns about vaccines,” California state Sen Richard J Pan, MD, MPH, said, “(and) that they will become more open to listening to the actual science and facts and turn away from the misinformation that’s been peddled by too many people.”
If too many people in a given population, say the student body at a school, aren’t immunized against some disease, say measles, an outbreak is more likely due to a reduction in so-called herd immunity.
“In recent years, there has been a groundswell of parents who see vaccines as a harbinger of other diseases despite evidence to the contrary,” the Daily Herald quoted Illinois state Sen John Mulroe, Democrat of Chicago, as saying about a vaccination bill that was under consideration in that state’s legislature two years ago. “What we don’t want is someone’s personal beliefs putting other people at risk, which is often the case with vaccination exemptions.”
- Info on vaccine exemptions for all states (NCSL)
But as pediatricians are finding out, most recently in South Carolina, the more doctors try to convince parents that vaccines don’t cause disease, the more resistance those parents put up and the harder they push back.
South Carolina currently allows two types of exemptions: parents can get a doctor’s note to show their child is at risk if he or she receives an immunization, or they can claim their religious beliefs prevent them from getting vaccinated.
The religious exemption is clearly the easier route, since it doesn’t require a doctor’s signature or even completion of a questionnaire about one’s religious beliefs. It’s “the path of least resistance,” the Post and Courier quoted Dr Henry Lemon, a pediatrician at the Medical University of South Carolina, as saying.
But over all, only a little more than 1 percent of South Carolina’s children claim a religious exemption, which presents no immediate problem, but the DHEC sees that number as an increase that came in the last four years of more than 50 percent.
If the trend continues—and it could, especially since President Donald Trump and vaccine skeptic, Robert F Kennedy Jr, have espoused the belief that immunizations lead to autism, despite Mr Trump’s recent appointment of pro-vaccine advocates—the risk of a loss of herd immunity could increase.