CNN – An increasing number of parents in the United States are citing faith to avoid getting their children vaccinated, according to a new study — even though no major religion opposes vaccination.
Childhood shots have been proven safe and effective, and prevent millions of deaths each year.
Just 15 states allow parents to opt out of them for philosophical or personal reasons. But new research suggests that anti-vaxxers may be finding a workaround: exploiting religious belief exemptions that are permitted in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
Published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics, the study analyzed data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that religious exemptions have been increasing since 2011 — and were significantly more likely in 2017 than six years prior.
Vaccine exemption rates among US kindergartners continue to climb, CDC says
Parents were more likely to claim religious exemptions for vaccines in states that didn’t permit personal belief exemptions, according to the research.
That suggests a “replacement effect,” according to Dr. Joshua Williams, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado.
“When you give parents two options in a state, personal belief and religious exemption, a very small percent of parents are actually opting for religious exemptions if given an alternative,” he said.
Religious belief exemptions surged 640% in one state
One state in particular, Vermont, offers a striking look at how some parents seem to be avoiding vaccines.
After eliminating personal belief exemptions in 2016, the state saw a 640% increase in the proportion of kindergarteners with religious vaccine exemptions, according to Williams’ study.
To qualify for a religious exemption in the state, parents are required to sign a short form confirming that they’ve read a two-page vaccine fact sheet and “attest to holding religious beliefs opposed to immunizations.”
When personal belief exemptions were allowed, 1 in every 200 students entered kindergarten each year with a religious vaccine exemption.
But that number surged to almost 1 in 25 after Vermont changed its law, the researchers found. Read more.