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Ethical quandary about vaccinations sparked by tension between parental rights and protecting public health
Date:7/8/2013

NEW YORK, July 8, 2013 Increased concerns about the perceived risk of vaccination, inconvenience, or religious tenets are leading more U.S. parents to opt-out of vaccinating their children. Parents are increasingly able to do so in states that have relatively simple procedures for immunization exemption, report researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center in the July issue of Health Affairs. Some states, fearing a public health crisis, have responded by putting in place more burdensome procedures for parents of school-aged children to opt-out.

All this adds up to an ethical quagmire, say the researchers.

"Choosing not to vaccinate a child puts others at risk," said study co-author Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics, Department of Population Health, Division of Medical Ethics, NYU Langone Medical Center. "Though making the opt-out process more difficult may reduce the numbers of exemptions granted, it is also ethically problematic." According to Dr. Caplan, this conflict poses a challenge for public health policy makers and continues to incite social debate.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow vaccination exemptions for medical reasons; 49 states and the District of Columbia allow exemptions for religious reasons; and 18 states allow exemptions for school-aged children for philosophical reasons (people who strongly object to immunization for reasons not associated with their religious beliefs). For the purposes of the recent study, researchers examined the process that certain states require parents to follow to obtain non-medical exemptions for school-age children, which are more prevalent than medical exceptions: About 80 percent of all vaccination exemptions in the 2011-2012 school year were non-medical.

Researchers also studied the complexity of individual states exemption processes to determine if they played a role in parents' decisions to opt-out
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Contact: Lorinda Klein
lorindaann.klein@nyumc.org
212-404-3533
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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