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Rise in parents opting-out of vaccinations for kids

An analysis by the Associated Press finds that the number of parents  that are opting out of vaccination shots for their kids has increased in more than half the U.S. states over the past five years. Eight states - mainly in the West and Midwest - now have levels of exemption that exceed 5 percent, a level that public health officials say is concerning.

Some areas within states have vaccination exemption rates of 20 percent or higher. Parents who skip vaccination shots not only put their kids at risk, but also the health of other children (including those that have received shots). The AP notes that studies have shown that measles has suddenly re-emerged in some communities with higher exemption rates.

A newer trend is an increase in exemptions on the basis of "philosophical" reasons. In the past, the primary reason was for religious reasons, as in the case of the Amish who have traditionally refused vaccination shots. However, it is now increasingly the case that people opt-out on the grounds of a preference for alternative medicine or beliefs about negative health effects from vaccines. These people tend to be "college-educated white people", with a higher concentration in politically liberal communities.

Based on interviews with parents who opt-out, the AP notes: "Several parents said that while they believe health officials mean well, their distrust of the vaccine-making pharmaceutical industry only continues to grow." This is what underlies liberal stances on many issues today: from food to the environment to politics, at rock-bottom is the fear that a big corporation is doing bad things, including kill people. It is a modern form of conspiracy theory.

The article finds that "some in public health are exasperated by the trend." It is frustrating when people ignore the established medical opinion in favor of a backward idea (for example, some continue to bang on about a link between vaccines and autism, well after this theory has been demolished). However, despite the public health risks associated with opting-out of vaccinations, it is important that we uphold parents' primary right to autonomy to make decisions for themselves. Legal compulsion for vaccinations is not the solution, as it will override basic rights and raises other practical problems.

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