Religiosity and Anti-Vaxxers

Religiosity and Anti-Vaxxers November 15, 2019

Religiosity is dropping around the United States, that much is obvious from the stats. However, there has been a recent spike in those claiming to be religious, in at kindergarten age, in Vermont. This seems to be as a result of a change in exemption rules to vaccination. It is certainly the case that many countries or states around the world are considering whether to make, or have made, vaccination compulsory in light of a growth in anti-vaxxers, and a spike in infection rates.

Science Alert reports:

While vaccination is compulsory across the US for students attending school, the requirement is waived in cases of exemption.

For example, medical exemptions are available in every US state (and in Washington, DC), in instances where a medical condition means vaccination could be harmful to the student.

In 45 states, exemptions on religious grounds are permissible as well (despite the seeming contradiction that all major religions now encourage immunisation, and scriptural analysis suggests this has long been the case).

Just 15 states now offer personal belief or ‘philosophical’ exemptions, and the numbers of states offering religious and personal belief exemptions have dwindled in recent years, as lawmakers seek to curb the spread of dangerous infections.

A trailblazer in this regard was Vermont, in 2015 voting to become the first state to repeal its personal belief exemption, which became law in 2016.

In their new study, Williams and fellow researchers analysed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on exemptions for children entering kindergarten from 2011 to 2018, to see how the removal of such personal belief exemptions might impact religious exemption rates.

In Vermont, this single policy change coincided with a huge increase in the proportion of kindergartener enrolments claiming a religious exemption – jumping from 0.5 percent of students to 3.7 percent.

“We interpret that as evidence of a replacement effect,” says Williams.

In other words, the researchers contend that parents in Vermont who did not wish to vaccinate their children started to claim an objection on religious grounds, only because the former alternative – personal belief – became unavailable.

As if being an anti-vaxxer wasn’t bad enough, people are no pretending to be religious… That said, things are still moving in the right direction:

While the result is somewhat jarring – and the suggested ‘tactics switch’ by anti-vaxxer parents runs the risk of obfuscating the already muddled reasons people use to justify a vaccine hesitant stance – the team does point out one piece of good news.

In Vermont, at least, the overall proportion of Vermont kindergarteners with non-medical exemptions decreased after the 2016 policy change (even while faux religiosity boomed).

“This finding aligns with aforementioned studies that showed lower overall non-medical exemption rates in states with religious exemptions only, and vaccine advocates will likely interpret this as a public health victory,” the authors write.

“In the last year, 10 other states have enacted or proposed legislation to eliminate non-medical exemptions, and policy makers in other states could consider Vermont’s experience as an instructive example when considering policy changes to decrease exemption rates.”


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