Illinois pediatricians and health officials think it’s too easy to avoid vaccinations in the state. According to federal figures, Illinois has the 5th highest level of non-medical vaccination exemptions in the nation.
In response, four state representatives have introduced a resolution urging the Illinois Department of Public Health to tighten the exemption process. Parents previously could obtain a religious exemption by simply submitting a signed statement about their personal objections. But a new proposal would require those parents to first consult with a primary care provider about the importance of vaccines.
The resolution (HR0144) was introduced by State Representatives Michael Zalewski (D-21), Michael McAuliffe (R-20), Robyn Gabel (D-18) and Greg Harris (D-13) and endorsed by the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP) and EverThrive Illinois, formerly known as the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition. The two groups are part of the Illinois Immunization Advisory Committee and have been working for more than a year on a proposal to address the exemption process.
The move to bolster vaccinations in the state came as more than a dozen measles case were confirmed by Illinois officials. All but one are associated with a Kindercare Center in Palatine.
According to state figures, Illinois’ non-medical vaccine exemptions doubled in four years, from 5,629 in 2009 to 13,527 in 2013. This has led pediatricians to worry about the loss of what’s called herd immunity—an environment that prevents a disease from spreading.
“In order for a community to have herd immunity, you really need to maintain vaccination rates around 95 percent,” said Dr. Tina Tan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. “Otherwise, what happens is, that when the rates drop below 95 percent, you can have the reemergence or reappearance of these preventable diseases occurring in individuals that are either not vaccinated or are too young to be vaccinated.”