If you could travel to the beginning of the 20th century and ask people what was the hardest part of their lives, many of them would tell you, “Watching children die of illness.”

In 1900, 21,064 smallpox cases were reported in the U.S., and 894 patients died. In 1920, 469,924 measles cases were reported, and 7,575 patients died; 147,991 diphtheria cases were reported, and 13,170 patients died.

In 2000, those numbers were almost zero.

Vaccinations work phenomenally well. But not everybody understands the need to get children vaccinated, which has led to the recent outbreak of measles in 14 states – a disease that was once wiped out in this country.

It’s a fact that the fewer children who are vaccinated against communicable diseases, the more we will see those diseases. And the number-one reason children aren’t getting vaccinated in this country is because their parents seek out vaccination exemptions before enrolling them in school.

Religious and philosophical exemptions
Idaho is among 19 states that allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children on both religious and philosophical grounds. Those 19 states do not fit into a familiar red/blue political pattern. Put simply, a lack of understanding of the importance of vaccinations cuts through party lines.

Vaccination-map

Mississippi?
Perhaps this map’s most interesting element is  the strict vaccination rules of bright-red Mississippi and newly bright-red West Virginia, which don’t allow exemptions based on religion or philosophy.

By contrast, Idaho had 147 kindergarteners enroll with religious exemptions and 1,304 enroll with philosophical exemptions last year. That’s 6.1 percent of kindergarteners according to the CDC, which gives Idaho one of the nation’s highest rates of non-medical exemptions. In Mississippi and West Virginia, total exemption rates are less than one percent.

Good against average
Even though the Gem state has a high rates of voluntary exemptions among kindergarteners, its latest vaccination rates for children do pretty well against the U.S. average.*

Children aged 12- 35 months
Children aged 12- 35 months

What’s more, Idaho’s vaccination rate is getting better over time.*

Children aged 19-35 months
Children aged 19-35 months

Yet Idaho’s vaccination rates could be better. The CDC reports that 88.2 percent of Idaho’s kindergarteners are immunized for measles. That’s below the 90-percent immunization rate, which is the threshold for community immunity, a rate that protects those who cannot, due to medical reasons, get vaccinated.

One way to increase the vaccination rate and potentially achieve community immunity is to stop permitting philosophical and/or religious exemptions.

Eliminate the philosophical exemption
Twenty-nine states do not permit a philosophical exemption. Those states tend to have higher vaccination rates than states with a philosophical exemption.

Eliminate both the philosophical and religious exemption
Two states do not permit either. Both have high vaccination rates.

Require a doctor’s signature for a philosophical exemption
In California, a parent or guardian must fill out a form saying he or she has been told the risks of not vaccinating by a physician before being granted a philosophical exemption. California still has low vaccination rates.

Or we could do nothing
In Idaho, parents must fill out this form before enrolling their children in school, which permits any parent to deny vaccinations to their children for almost any reason.

Currently, there are 102 cases of measles in this country and none in Idaho. Should the Gem State use this opportunity to strengthen our vaccination laws? Or should we wait and hope for the best?

*4:3:1:3:3:1
The series of four or more DTaP vaccinations, three or more polio vaccinations, one armored MMR vaccinations, three or more HiB vaccinations of any type, three or more hepatitis B vaccinations and one or more varicella vaccinations given at age 12 months or older.
4+DTaP/DTP/DT
Four or more Diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine/Diphtheria and tetanus and pertussis vaccine/Diphtheria and tetanus vaccine.
MMR
Measels, mumps, and rubella vaccine