Lax state vaccination laws contribute to lower immunization rates and increased outbreaks of preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles, according to a new UGA study.
Through their research, released in the journal Health Affairs, study authors David Bradford and Anne Mandich found higher rates of pertussis, or whooping cough, in states that allowed philosophical exemptions and used a standardized exemption form.
Vaccination exemption rates have increased drastically in the past 10 years, according to the study, due largely to religious and philosophical reasons, which fall under the nonmedical exemption category. All but three states allow exemptions based on religious reasons. Only 17 allow philosophical exemptions. And 39 states use a standardized exemption form.
“We are seeing a significant association between pertussis rates and vaccination exemption,” said Bradford, who holds the Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the UGA School of Public and International Affairs. “States with stricter policies have lower pertussis rates, which shows that policymakers do have it within their power to further limit the spread of these diseases.”
Pertussis was used as the foundation for the study, which relied on kindergarten exemption data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its 2002-12 annual school assessment reports, “for the unfortunate reason that pertussis is more common,” Bradford said. About 48,000 cases were recorded in the U.S. in 2012. An average year has between 45,000 and 50,000 cases. In contrast, the CDC recorded an average of 60 cases of measles per year from 2001 to 2012.
The study found three key policies that lower whooping cough rates: requiring state health department approval for nonmedical vaccination exemptions; allowing exemption from only specific vaccines instead of all vaccines; and levying criminal and civil punishment against those who do not comply with vaccination policies.