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Dec. 10: Stakeholder report: Parents should be educated before exempting kids from vaccinations

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Mark Salley 
Communications Director

Stakeholder report: Parents should be educated
before exempting kids from vaccinations

DENVER—Parents who want to exempt their children from required vaccinations because of personal beliefs first should be educated on immunization benefits and risks, a new report says.
Colorado state law requires that students enrolled in licensed child care centers and schools have a certificate on file documenting the child is up to date on all required immunizations. Students can be exempted if a parent files a one-time form that claims personal beliefs against immunizations. Students also can be exempted for medical or religious reasons.
The report is the result of six months’ work by a stakeholder group convened to study the state’s personal belief exemption policy and make recommendations to update it. Other recommendations include publishing school and child care center immunization and exemption rates, annual renewal of the personal belief exemption, and requiring a medical provider or health official sign the exemption form.
"The personal belief exemption policy should strike a balance between individual rights and our responsibility to protect public health,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We appreciate the thoughtful recommendations of the work group.”
Studies link the ease of obtaining a personal belief exemption with a higher incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough). In states such as Colorado, where parental signature alone is sufficient to claim an exemption, the incidence of whooping cough is 41 percent higher than in states with more restrictive exemption requirements. Colorado is in its second year of a whooping cough epidemic, with more than 1,100 cases reported so far this year.
Personal belief is the most common reason for exempting from immunizations in Colorado, and the state has one of the highest personal belief exemption rates in the country. For the 2012-2013 school year, 4.3 percent of Colorado kindergarteners were exempted from one or more immunizations. In other words, almost 3,000 kindergarteners who entered school last year were not immunized against one or more vaccine-preventable diseases. Nintey-three percent of those exemptions were for personal beliefs.
The stakeholder work group was led by three partner organizations: the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; the nonprofit Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition; and the Keystone Center, a neutral, third-party facilitator. The organizations held eight focus groups and three stakeholder meetings, and conducted multiple interviews.