Although some children can't be fully vaccinated for medical reasons, many parents in the U.S. are now opting their kids out of vaccinations for religious or philosophical reasons. The alarming thing is that this rise in non-medical exemptions (NMEs) is creating risky hot spots for vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough.
A 2015 National Immunization Survey showed that only about 72 percent of children aged 19 months to 35 months in the U.S. were fully vaccinated according to guidelines from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. To get a better idea of where these children are, researchers used data from the 18 states that allow NMEs for childhood vaccinations. The analysis, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that 12 of those states have shown an increase in the number of children enrolling in kindergarten with an NME since 2009.
The 12 states are Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. The other six states that allow exemptions are Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Wisconsin.
Researchers also identified 15 metropolitan cities with higher rates of vaccination exemptions (where more than 5 percent of kindergarten-age kids are unvaccinated). These are "focal areas with large numbers of potentially vulnerable pediatric populations" where outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases could originate from or spread rapidly through (like what happened in the 2014-15 Disneyland measles outbreak or the 2017 measles outbreak in Minnesota):
Salt Lake City, Utah
Fort Worth, Texas
Kansas City, Missouri
Additionally, 10 smaller counties, mostly in Idaho, Wisconsin and Utah, have more than 14 percent of kindergarten-aged children who are unvaccinated.
The implications for the decline of vaccines is heartbreaking. If the trend continues, medical authorities warn of battling epidemics we thought we had conquered decades ago. This possibility once again brings up the controversial question: Should vaccines be optional?