Vaccine exemptions for students rising in Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The number of exemptions being granted from vaccine requirements is growing in Indiana, but state officials say they don't have an accurate count because many parents won't let their child's immunization status be reported.

The Indiana State Department of Health reports 233 medical exemptions were granted for kindergartners for the 2013-14 school year. Another 456 children received religious exemptions.

But The Journal Gazette reports ( ) the statistics are misleading because the information is incomplete. During the 2005-06 school year, 96,213 children were surveyed, but that number was down to 61,336 last year.

Dana Greenwood, chief nurse consultant for the health department's immunization division, said some data are lacking because cash-strapped schools can't afford nurses to review each child's immunization record every year.

Overall, she said, Indiana's exemptions account for about 1 percent of all children and aren't a huge cause of concern.

"In general, we do a very good job of getting kids vaccinated," Greenwood said.

Indiana law requires children entering kindergarten or first grade to be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis B and chickenpox. Some of those immunizations are combined into single shots with multiple doses.

Those who aren't immunized are kept out of school during the period in which a disease is communicable. In cases like chickenpox, that can mean 21 days of missed classes.

Greenwood said the goal of the immunization program is to achieve "herd immunity," which means enough people are vaccinated to prevent the disease from spreading.

"It's also very important that children remain protected from diseases," she said. "Most of these diseases are very serious and can be life-threatening. You have to weigh the risks and benefits."

Jim O'Kelley, 73, of the Anti-vaccination League of America, disagreed.

"To say a vaccination protects you, but sometimes it doesn't work, is stupid. To say that people who are vaccinated are protecting people who are not vaccinating is stupid," he said. "It's all hype and propaganda."

O'Kelley said many parents aren't aware that they can choose not to vaccinate and feel forced into getting their children immunized.

"A nurse just says, 'You can't get in school without that,' so parents do it against their better judgment," he said.


Information from: The Journal Gazette,

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