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More Arizona Kids Exempted From Vaccinations This Year for ‘Personal Belief’

Arizona Department of Health Services

The Arizona Department of Health Services reports fewer children were vaccinated this year because more parents chose “personal belief exemptions.” KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Personal belief is one of three exemptions, along with medical and religious reasons, that allow parents to send unvaccinated children to school or daycare. Yavapai County had the highest rate of personal belief exemptions for at least one vaccine, followed by Coconino.

Jessica Rigler, spokesperson for the Department of Health Services, says, "Any time we see increases in exemption rates, it means fewer children are being vaccinated, and that puts all our communities at risk for an influx of disease."

The department annually collects data from public, private and charter schools at the kindergarten and sixth grade levels to see trends in immunizations. Parents do not specify their reasons for opting out of certain vaccines, but Rigler believes many are unfamiliar with diseases like measles and whooping cough because they’re no longer common.

Also, anecdotal evidence suggests some parents are so-called “convenience exemptors.” Rigler says, "Those are parents who are signing an exemption form because they don’t have their children’s shot record, or they haven’t had a chance to get the vaccine yet. It’s not a true personal belief exemption."

Statewide this year five percent of kids in kindergarten and sixth grade had personal belief exemptions. 

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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