* Elyse Forkosh Cutler, president and founder of Sage Health Strategy…
In Illinois, children can obtain religious exemptions from mandated vaccines. In 2015, Illinois tightened the religious exemption requirement—parents claiming a religious exemption now must obtain certification from a physician that they have received education on vaccine safety. The logic at the time was that the number of religious exemptions in Illinois would fall.
Unfortunately, we were wrong. In 2013, before the law’s passage, there were 13,000 Illinois children claiming a religious exemption. This past year, the number of religious exemptions was up 46 percent, to over 19,000. Today, more than 100,000 Illinois schoolchildren attend a school with a measles vaccine rate of less than 95 percent. This is the threshold for “herd immunity,” meaning these schools are at increased risk of an outbreak. The large increase in religious exemptions also makes clear that parents opt-out of vaccination because of misinformation, not religious practice. The social media echo chamber has so frightened parents that some now don’t even trust their pediatrician.
So now what? The General Assembly needs to take up legislation in the fall veto session eliminating the religious exemption. That is what California did after a 2014 outbreak that started in Disneyland infected nearly 150 people. At that time, the vaccination rate in California was 92 percent. It is now nearly 98 percent.
In the meantime, there are steps the state can take now. The Illinois State Board of Education should issue a public report listing schools with low vaccination rates. Parents deserve to know if they are putting their children at risk. Additionally, the IDPH religious exemption process must be redesigned to prevent fraud. At present, all someone wanting a religious exemption for their child must do is give a doctor a form to sign that says the parent received vaccine-safety education. It’s all done on paper and there is no process to verify that a licensed clinician signed the form.
We all had hoped the law passed in 2014 would increase vaccination rates. We were wrong. The General Assembly must again step in and prevent Illinois from becoming the next ground zero for measles.
There are no constitutional protections that allow you to put the population at risk of deadly disease outbreaks. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
The governor has taken some unilateral actions to step up vaccinations. But it’s not gonna be enough as long as legions of clever dimwits and grifters are fooling more and more people into thinking they and their children don’t need to be vaccinated.