Many states allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for either religious or philosophical reasons. But the outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland in December 2014 may change this.
Legislators in at least 10 states are promoting changes to state laws that make either religious or philosophical vaccination exemptions harder to obtain. A philosophical exemption is also called a personal belief or conscientious exemption. Such exemptions require only that a parent or guardian state that they do not want their child vaccinated due to their personal, moral, or other beliefs.
Different states are taking different tacks in cracking down on exemptions. Some state legislators have proposed laws do away with all exemptions except ones for medical reasons. Some states are considering requiring parents to fill out more extensive forms that ask them to list their reasons for not wanting to vaccinate their child. Others would require schools to post the rate of vaccinations or notify other parents that an unvaccinated child attends their child's school. Another tack is asking parents to abtain a statement from the child's physician stating that the risks and benefits of not vaccinating have been discussed.
Some state legislatures are considering several of these changes. For example, Illinois is considering a bill that would require parents to present their objections to the school authority, obtain a notarized signature from a religious official attesting to any religious objection, and obtain a signed statement from the child's doctor.
Many of the law changes have bipartisan support.
Only the states of Mississippi and West Virginia require all children to be vaccinated before they attend school unless there are medical reasons to avoid a vaccination. Neither permit religious or philosophical exemptions. Mississippi has the highest vaccination rate in the nation for kindergartners.
There have been more than 150 confirmed cases of measles in 17 states during the current outbreak. California, where Disneyland is located, was hardest hit. The state allows both philosophical and religious exemptions. Most cases of measles have been in people who were not vaccinated.