A state-by-state guide to vaccine exemptions in the US

chicken pox vaccine

A public health emergency in the US shows no signs of slowing down.

As of February 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had tallied 101 cases of measles across 10 states. At least half of those cases were reported in the Pacific Northwest. 

The outbreak began January 22, when the public health department of Clark County, Washington, announced that at least 23 people were sick with the viral illness, which incubates for a week or two before prompting fever, coughing, runny nose, and little red bumps that break out on the face and body. There are now at least 50 people with measles in Clark County.

Many are blaming anti-vaxxers for the measles outbreak

As the number of measles cases continues to rise, many public-health experts are attributing the epidemic to anti-vaxxers. In Washington, 43 of the 50 cases were among people who did not receive the measles vaccine

Read more: Measles cases surged 30% last year due to ‚gaps‘ in vaccine coverage, and experts say it’s ‚deeply concerning‘

The high percentage of unvaccinated measles patients may be a result of Washington’s vaccination exemptions. According to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), Washington is one of 17 states that allow for philosophical exemptions from vaccines, which are granted to individuals who hold conscientious objections to one or more shots

Those 17 states also allow for medical exemptions and religious exemptions, which are intended for people who hold a religious belief so strong that „if the state forced vaccination, it would be an infringement on their constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs.“ 

The following map breaks down vaccine-exemption rules across the US, using data from NVIC. 

vaccine exemptions every state map

The 10 states with reported measles cases are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Four of those states — Colorado, Oregon, Texas, and Washington — allow for philosophical exemptions. 

The other states with similar exemption rules are: Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Read more: From autism risks to mercury poisoning, here are 10 lies anti-vaxxers are spreading about the measles vaccine in the Pacific Northwest

Most other states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow for religious exemptions. California, Mississippi, and West Virginia are the only three states that just permit exemptions for medical reasons.

Even if you do receive vaccines, you could still get infected 

Receiving a vaccine does not guarantee immunity. A full course of the measles vaccine — which consists of two doses — is about 97% effective at stopping the measles, while a single dose is 93% effective. (At least one person who received a single dose of the measles vaccine in Washington got sick.)

However, vaccinations can increase herd immunity, a scenario in which enough people get vaccines that it’s difficult for a virus to spread in a community. This offers protection for people who are unable to get vaccines for health reasons, like HIV or cancer. 

Hilary Brueck contributed reporting to this story.

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