Why Aren’t Parents Vaccinating Their Children?

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According to a new AP report released today, more than 1 in 20 kindergarteners in public schools across eight states aren’t getting the required number of vaccines stipulated for attendance.

In large part, parents are opting out of the vaccine requirements via medical, religious or personal belief exemptions, which vary by state. Reasons behind the personal belief exemptions include fears about vaccine side effects (many worry about connections between vaccines and autism though a recent National Academy of Sciences report found no link between the two) to wanting to be able to decide exactly which vaccines are given to their child.

The AP found that vaccine exemptions have risen slightly in about half of all U.S. states. The highest rates of exemption are in the West and Midwest, including the town of Ashland, Ore., which is featured in both their reporting and our 2010 film The Vaccine War.

The clip below is an introduction to the vaccine issue in Ashland, which has a high rate of unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated children — about 28 percent at the time of our filming. Jennifer Margulis, a writer and mother of four children, has decided not to fully vaccinate her children, telling FRONTLINE:

As a parent, I would rather see my child get a natural illness and contract that the way that illnesses have been contracted for at least 200,000 years that homo sapiens have been around. I’m not afraid of my children getting chicken pox. There are reasons that children get sick. Getting sick is not a bad thing.

Others disagree, including another Ashland parent, Lorie Anderson:

It’s an outbreak waiting to happen. And so I don’t just care about my own child. My child may be well protected because of his vaccination. But I hate to see people get hurt, injured, die, have to be quarantined, isolated because of an outbreak that is preventable with a vaccine. All they have to do is sign an exemption and their kid is exempt from immunization before they go to school.

The heart of the issue in many cases is the public versus the private good, which is debated below by three Ashland parents and the town’s public health official, Dr. Jim Shames. The key question, according to Shames: “Do you feel that when you say ‘No, thank you,’ that you might be putting anybody else at risk besides your child?”:

Watch The Vaccine War in its entirety here.

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