Religious Exemptions for Vaccines More Than Double Over Past 5 Years in Polk County Schools

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Polk County Health Department is finding the number of religious exemptions for school immunizations is increasing at what they say is an alarming rate.

The department recently released the Polk County school immunization reports for 2019 and found the number of religious exemptions has increased by 13.5 percent from the previous year. These exemptions have steadily increased throughout the past five years with the amount more than doubling since 2014.

“Religious exemptions are used for individuals who believe vaccines go against their religious beliefs. So individuals can just say that this vaccine goes against their religious beliefs. We don't ever have proof if that is accurate or not. We just encourage people to use their best judgment,” Nola Aigner Davis with the Polk County Health Department said.

The Polk County Health Department said children who are not fully vaccinated will miss a significant number of days of school if exposed. For example, if an under-vaccinated child is exposed to measles, they will be kept at home for 21 days.

Polk County Health Department 2019 Immunization Audit

Still, there are enough Polk county students vaccinated overall to have what they call “community immunity” with 96.7 percent. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) likes to see it even higher.

“The (CDC) actually likes to see a higher number,” Aigner Davis said. “They like to see a number of 98 percent in the schools because that shows a very effective number of students being fully vaccinated and not having preventable disease outbreaks in our community. So our number is a little bit lower than that optimal number they would like.”

The Polk County Health Department said immunizations not only help protect preteens and teens from contracting the disease but also their siblings, friends and the people who care for them such as their parents or grandparents.

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