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Kids' Vaccine Exemptions Too Easy to Obtain: Study

Only kindergarten students who truly need waivers should get them, to protect group immunity

MONDAY, Sept. 10, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Medical exemption rates for required vaccinations for kindergarten students are higher in states where such exemptions are easier to get, which compromises group immunity and poses a threat to children and others who really should not be immunized due to underlying health conditions, a new study suggests.

The findings show that medical exemptions for vaccinations should be closely monitored and continuously evaluated to ensure they are used appropriately, said the researchers at Emory University, in Atlanta.

They examined kindergarten entry requirements over seven school years -- which translated to nearly 88,000 exemptions nationwide from 2004-2005 to 2010-2011. Compared to states with more stringent exemption criteria, states with looser criteria had a significant increase in exemptions during the study period.

The results suggest that requiring both parents and doctors to be more accountable for granting medical exemptions may help ensure that these exemptions are valid and not used as an alternative to non-medical exemptions (which may be harder to obtain) the researchers said.

The study was published online Aug. 29 in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

"The appropriate use of medical exemptions is important to maintaining sufficient herd immunity to protect those who should not be vaccinated due to medical contra-indications," study senior investigator Saad Omer said in a journal news release. "Medical providers, parents, school officials, and state health officials are responsible for ensuring that medical exemptions are actually medically indicated."

The findings should prove useful to officials responsible for implementing and enforcing school immunization requirements at the state and local levels, Daniel Salmon and Dr. Neal Halsey, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

They noted that "children with valid medical exemptions need to be protected from exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases by insuring high coverage rates among the rest of the population. Granting medical exemptions for invalid medical contraindications may promote unfounded vaccine safety concerns."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about childhood vaccines.

SOURCE: The Journal of Infectious Diseases, news release, Aug. 30, 2012
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