Pew Research Center
02/25/15 by Aleksandra Sandstrom
Forty-seven states allow children to be exempt from vaccinations because of religious concerns, including 18 states that also allow exemptions for “personal reasons,” according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. One state, Minnesota, allows parents to not vaccinate their children based on a broader “personal” exemption that does not explicitly mention religion.
The recent measles outbreak linked to California’s Disneyland has reignited the debate over whether children should be required to receive vaccinations, regardless of parental objections. More than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (83%) say that vaccines for diseases like measles, mumps and rubella are safe for healthy children, while 9% say they are not safe, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
While all states require children to receive certain vaccinations before they can enter public school, most states offer nonmedical exemptions to those requirements. (Every state allows exemptions for children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.)
Only two states – Mississippi and West Virginia – do not offer any nonmedical vaccine exemptions, although California is considering legislation that could end its exemptions.
Our analysis found wide variation in vaccination exemptions across the country. Some states have strict guidelines surrounding religious exemptions. Delaware, for instance, requires parents to submit a notarized affidavit stating that a sincere belief in “a Supreme Being” is the reason for the exemption request. And Oregon requires parents to obtain a “vaccine education certificate” either from a health care provider or by viewing an online seminar before their child can be exempted.
Many states specify that “philosophical” arguments must not be cited as a basis for granting a religious exemption. But it’s impossible to know exactly what grounds people cite in applying for religious exemptions, since most states, such as Connecticut, do not require parents to provide detailed reasons for claiming exemptions.
And even though 47 states allow religious exemptions for vaccinations, researchers and journalists have struggled to identify a single major U.S. religious group that currently advocates against vaccination for children. Although the original reasons for religious exemptions to mandatory vaccines are unclear in many states, some exist “at least in part owing to the lobbying efforts of the Christian Science Church,” according to an article in the Annual Review of Public Health by Douglas Diekema, a doctor and bioethicist at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an outbreak of measles in 1994 among students at Christian Science schools in Missouri and Illinois, but the church – known for its belief in healing through prayer – does not advocate that its members refrain from vaccinating children.
Some components of vaccines could theoretically cause other religious concerns. Certain vaccines contain gelatin that is derived from pigs, including some measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and varicella (chicken pox) vaccines, and many Jews and Muslims do not consume swine products. However, religious authorities from Judaism and Islam have said that the vaccines are permissible.
Additionally, the Catholic Church has sanctioned the “temporary” use of vaccines, such as some rubella vaccines, which may be developed from descendant cells of tissue from aborted fetuses. (The church also encourages its followers to seek out alternative vaccines that do not use such cells.)
For more on the sources used in this analysis, click here (http://www.pewforum.org/files/2015/02/Vaccination_Requirement_Data_Sources_by_State.pdf) .
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that California allows religious exemptions. The total number of states that allow religious exemptions is 47, not 46 as previously stated. The other categories also have been updated accordingly.
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