As states loosen childhood vaccine requirements, public health experts’ worries grow

By Shalina Chatlani, Stateline.org

Louisiana Republican state Rep. Kathy Edmonston believes no one ought to be required to vaccinate their children. So, she wants schools to proactively tell parents that it’s their right under Louisiana law to seek an exemption.

“It’s not the vaccine itself, it is the mandate,” Edmonston told Stateline. “The law is the law. And it already says you can opt out if you don’t want it. If you do want it, you can go anywhere and get it.”

Although Louisiana scores among the bottom states in most health indicators, nearly 90% of kindergarten children statewide have complete vaccination records, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health from last school year. That’s even as Louisiana maintains some of the broadest exemptions for personal, religious and moral reasons. The state only requires a written notice from parents to schools.

Edmonston, a Republican, has sponsored legislation that would require schools to provide parents with information about the exemptions. The bill is intended to ensure parents aren’t denied medically necessary information, she said.

Vaccines protect not only the patient, but also those around them. Science has shown that a population can reach community immunity, also known as herd immunity, once a certain percentage of the group is vaccinated. That herd immunity can protect people who can’t get vaccinated, such as those with weakened immune systems or serious allergies, by reducing their chances of infection. In the past few years, however, COVID-19 vaccines have terrified some people who oppose requirements to get the shot, even though research shows the vaccines are far safer than getting the disease.

Some lawmakers across the country are working to sidestep vaccine mandates, not just for COVID-19, but also for measles, polio and meningitis. Public health experts worry the renewed opposition to childhood immunizations will reverse state gains in vaccination rates. Meanwhile, cases of some diseases, including measles, have increased across the country.