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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Public health officials and doctors who worry that not enough Michigan children are immunized against diseases must combat a trend not helpful to their cause: More parents are simply refusing to get their kids vaccinated.
Michigan has the country's fourth-highest rate of parents getting religious or philosophical waivers to vaccine requirements, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 7,300, or 5.5 percent, of the state's roughly 125,000 kindergartners had medical, religious or philosophical waivers on file last school year. That's up from about 6,900 the year before and 5,700 in 2010-11.
Three in four of the exemptions were for philosophical reasons. Parents may be skeptical that vaccines are essential, fear they carry their own risk or believe in older vaccines but question newer shots. Others may take pause at the sheer number of shots and wonder if the cumulative effect has been studied enough. By the time most children are 6, they will have been stuck with a needle about two dozen times.
One reason Michigan has a high number of exemptions is it allows philosophical waivers while roughly 30 states do not.
"We have maybe a little more liberal view of what qualifies as a waiver than other states. And so I think more and more people have taken advantage of that," said Bob Swanson, director of the state's Division of Immunizations. "That's where we need to really voice the importance of making sure kids are vaccinated and that only legitimate waivers are being utilized."
Some parents may have no philosophical opposition but find it easier to file a waiver after forgetting to schedule a vaccination before the school year starts, said Jevon McFadden, an epidemiologist with the CDC who is based at the Michigan Department of Community Health. He took part in a news conference Thursday to help raise awareness about immunizations and newly released statistics causing concern among the state's medical community.