Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Vaccine exemptions in Arkansas: A CLARIFICATION

Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 2015 at 5:05 PM

click to enlarge number_of_school_children_not_vaccinated.jpg

Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Chris Christie, possible Republican presidential contenders courting the anti-vaccination vote, have said they think it should be up to parents whether they immunize their children against highly contagious diseases like measles. (Christie has since qualified his statement, noting that he and his wife immunized their kids.) A more reasonable and apparently better informed House Speaker John Boehner followed up their statements with his position, that children ought to be vaccinated.

The latest salvo in the vaccine wars comes in the wake of a California outbreak of measles — our most contagious virus, which lingers in a room even after an infected person has left it. So what about Arkansas? 

In 2003, the Arkansas legislature decided to add to existing exemptions for religious and medical reasons another exemption to immunization: philosophical grounds. That means if you don't want to immunize your child before sending him off to school, you don't have to. You do have to be granted an exemption from the state Department of Health.

The information in the chart above shows the huge increase in numbers of exemptions on philosophical grounds. These figures represent exemptions granted. They total 34,050 since the legislation passed; first graders from that year would be graduating this year. (See CLARIFICATION at end.)

Kerry Krell, a spokesman for the state Health Department, said the numbers "are concerning, particularly the steady increase in philosophical exemptions. Those numbers directly translate into children who are unprotected against vaccine-preventable diseases that can be life-threatening."

Will legislators here be weighing in? We'll see. 


The 34,050 number does not represent the number of children currently matriculating without certain immunizations, but the total number of exemptions requested since 2002, Krell informs us. Exemptions are for one year only; parents who wish to continue their children's exemptions must reapply every year. The number of children attending Arkansas schools this year who have not received some or all shots the Health Department requires is 6,058 — still a high number, Krell said.

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