By Tony Leys
The number of Iowa parents seeking religious exemptions to vaccination requirements continues to climb, despite efforts to dispel worries the shots cause health problems.
A new state report shows 6,737 Iowa school children obtained religious exemptions to vaccinations this school year, up 13 percent from the year before and more than four times the number 15 years ago.
“It’s not the trend we want to be seeing,” said Don Callaghan, who oversees immunization programs for the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Callaghan predicted the state will face more pressure to tighten restrictions on vaccination exemptions if the numbers keep rising.
Iowa doesn’t require parents to cite specific religious teachings against vaccination in order to obtain an exemption. The state only requires them to sign a statement claiming immunization “conflicts with a genuine and sincere religious belief.”
Public health officials say they’re unaware of any major religion that teaches vaccinations are wrong.
The statewide increase in religious exemptions this school year was not as large as Polk County’s 33 percent jump, which the county reported earlier this spring. But Callaghan had hoped to see a decrease, especially in light of a highly publicized outbreak of measles in California two years ago. That outbreak, linked to Disneyland, took hold among unvaccinated children.
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