Anti-Vaxxers Are Now Using Religion To Avoid Childhood Vaccine

Doctors and the federal government have been launching campaigns to encourage parents to consider providing their children with vaccine. But anti-vaxxers found a new way to avoid childhood shots.

A new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found a growing number of parents who use religious belief to avoid vaccines in the U.S. However, researchers noted no major religion opposes vaccination. 

To date, 45 states and the District of Columbia allow parents to use religious belief for vaccine exemptions. Meanwhile, 15 states allow parents to reject vaccines for philosophical or personal reasons. 

Researchers said anti-vaxxers are exploiting religious exemptions in states that deny personal belief to avoid childhood vaccine. Applications for religious exemptions have been increasing since 2011.

In Vermont, officials reported a 640 percent increase in the number of kindergarteners with religious vaccine exemptions after the state eliminated personal belief exemptions in 2016. Prior to the decision, only one in every 200 kindergarten students went to school with a religious vaccine exemption every year, CNN reported Monday

But that number increased to one in 25 after Vermont removed personal belief from the list of allowed reasons to avoid vaccines. The findings come from the analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

"When you give parents two options in a state, personal belief and religious exemption, a very small percent of parents are actually opting for religious exemptions if given an alternative," Joshua Williams, lead study author and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado, said. 

Another interesting finding of the study is that the rise of religious vaccine exemptions comes amid the declining number of people with religious affiliation in the U.S. The researchers said the Americans who consider themselves as agnostic or atheist have also increased from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent in 2014.

"It may be that insular religious groups are growing more rapidly than secular communities or that they are increasingly falling victim to vaccine misinformation," the team said in the study. "Yet the rise of religious exemptions in an increasingly secular society also questions whether the religious exemption category can still serve its intended purpose."

In addition, the study highlights that major religions also support vaccines, including Buddhists, Jewish people and the Vatican. Williams said parents or anti-vaxxers are creating “stigma for religious traditions who support vaccines.”

Vaccine This picture taken on April 5, 2019 shows a nurse preparing the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images