Childhood vaccinations have become a very controversial topic over the past decade. In 1983, 10 vaccines were recommended for a child from birth to age six by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Today, the CDC recommends up to 36 vaccinations in the first six years of life. More families are stepping up and shunning inoculations. They are opting out for religious, medical or philosophical reasons. Every state has exemption vaccinations laws. Some states allow only medical and religious exemption, while others allow philosophical exemption. Less than one percent of school-age children in each state have exemption from vaccines, but the numbers are going up. The rates of opt out requests have nearly doubled in many school districts across the country. This means more and more kids are in school and are not vaccinated. This has the medical community concerned for general public health.

Why opt out?

Parents are choosing to opt out their children of vaccinations for a number of reasons. Some of the resistance to vaccines is because parents believe there is a link between a vaccine preservative called thimerosal and autism. Scientific studies have failed to find a causal link between the two. Another reason parents choose not to vaccinate is because the diseases vaccinated for are very rare. A study published by the CDC showed that death rates for the diseases that can be prevented by childhood vaccinations are at an all-time low in the United States. Doctors say that these figures show the vaccinations are working, but they are a victim of their own success.

How to opt out?

Whether or not it is easy or difficult to opt out of vaccines depends on the state you live in. Chantal Wilford lives in Florida. She went to the county health department and simply asked for a religious exemption. She says they explained the risks involved in choosing not to vaccinate, but she did not have to state her religion or have any documentation proving her religious belief; however, Rita Palma of New York sought a religious exemption from vaccines for her three sons but was turned down after a hearing with school officials. After submitting a written request for a religious waiver, she was questioned at a two-hour hearing by a lawyer. The New York Civil Liberties Union is now pursuing her case. Also, a lawmaker in Palma's area has now introduced a conscientious exemption bill for vaccines.

The risks of opting out

The medical community says the fewer people immunized, the greater the risk that the infections can return as a public health issue. Many doctors understand that vaccination is a choice, but they caution parents about the risks of opting out. Some risks include long-lasting side effects of meningitis, complications from Hepatitis B or C, and brain damage or death from rubella or, in rare cases, whooping cough. There is also a cost factor. It's estimated that for every dollar spent on vaccinations, $10 is saved in long-term health issues. One recent example of the risk came about in San Diego in February this year. Eleven children got measles after an unvaccinated child returned from Switzerland with the disease. Doctors say this shows that if too many people choose not to vaccinate, we could see the return of some very serious diseases such as the measles and hepatitis. Parents who opt out argue that they are not interested in the general public health; they are concerned with their own child's health. While doctors say vaccines are safe, the parents who opt out feel they are not safe and fear an assault on the immune system at a very young age.