Vt. health officials keeping close tab on vaccine religious exemptions


BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont health officials say they are keeping a close tab on religious exemptions when it comes to vaccinating children. It comes at the same time as a major measles outbreak across the country.

Kids in Vermont are required to get vaccinated to attend school or fill out the appropriate paperwork that lets them opt out. Schools have until January 1 to send the health department the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

It’s a requirement for both public and private schools, and the latest numbers show 94.5 percent of total Vermont students are up to date on their vaccines.

“We’re doing pretty well. The vast majority of kids in Vermont are fully up to date on all their vaccines,” said Patsy Kelso of the Vermont Department of Health.

The kids who aren’t up-to-date have two options. The first is to hand in proof as soon as possible. In the meantime, they are admitted to school on a provisional basis and have six months to get the appropriate shots.

About 2.3 percent of nearly 84,500 students across the state were admitted provisionally in the latest report. That’s down slightly from last year.

The second option is to submit a medical or religious exemption form, making it so they do not have to get a shot.

Medical exemptions would have to be pretty serious, like chemo therapy. Just 0.2 percent of students were admitted with a medical exemption in the latest report, which is on par with other years.

For the religious exemption forms, they just need to be filled out and signed. No proof is required like with the medical exemption. Religious exemptions were reported at about three percent in the latest numbers.

“We saw a slight bump in the religious exemption in the last year, with the absence of the philosophical exemption,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

Lawmakers got rid of the philosophical exemption for the 2016 – 2017 school year to combat falling vaccination numbers, but it seems the number of religious exemptions is now creeping up.

From the 2012 – 2013 school year to the 2015 – 2016 school year, the percentage of those with philosophical exemptions hovered around four percent.

In the same time frame, religious exemptions were near 0 to 0.5 percent. Since the philosophical exemption was removed, religious exemptions jumped to three percent across K to 12. And just last year, the number of kindergartners filing religious exemptions was up to 4.4 percent.

Dr. Levine says misinformation is what is causing parents to choose not to get their kids vaccinated. We asked if he would support getting rid of the religious exemption and he said as a public health measure, he definitely would.

While the majority of kids are vaccinated across the state, the numbers vary greatly when looking at specific schools. Some as low as zero percent of the kids are fully vaccinated.

Who is in charge of making sure those kids are following the law? Check out the story Wednesday night on the Channel 3 News at 6.

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