A new study, published online by Vaccine journal, found that in Arizona charter school students were more than twice as likely as their public school counterparts to file “personal belief exemptions,” allowing those children to enter kindergarten without receiving vaccinations.
The study, authored by Michael S. Birnbaum, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, along with two professors from the University of Arizona and a member of the Arizona Department of Health Services, used data from the 2010-11 Immunization Data Report to analyze kindergarteners in over 1,000 public and charter schools in Arizona. The study concluded that the profile of a school with a high personal belief exemption rate was “a charter school attended by predominantly white, higher-income students.”
The study also pinpointed the areas in Arizona with higher rates of vaccination exemptions so that health officials can target those areas to improve vaccination rates as well as monitor them in order to respond quickly to any outbreaks. An article in the The Arizona Republic says that public health officials recommend no more than 5-10 percent of the population be unvaccinated, at which point the risk of an outbreak greatly increases. About eight percent of the schools in the study had vaccinations rates above 10 percent.
Almost all states (all 48 except Mississippi and West Virginia) allow religious exemptions for vaccinations, and Arizona is one of 18 states that allow personal belief exemptions. All 50 states offer medical exemptions for students whose health would be compromised by vaccinations, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Institute for Vaccine Safety.
In the The Arizona Republic article, Elizabeth Jacobs, a professor at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health and a co-author of the study, said that these findings are in line with the available literature about vaccination exemptions. “White, middle-class families are choosing the exemptions,” she said in the article. About 6.2 percent of kindergartners in charter schools were exempt from vaccinations, compared to 2.3 percent of traditional public school kindergarteners, according to the article.
The study did not include private school students.
Another study that will probe more deeply into why families are choosing to file personal belief exemptions is now underway at the University of Arizona.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.