shutterstock_144787315__1392742241_142.196.167.223An alarming rate of parents are skipping vaccinations for their children – and it’s not necessarily for the reasons you may think. Many of these parents aren’t anti-vaxxers, they are just busy people who find it easier to check a box and skip a visit to the doctor. With some states making it just that easy to opt out of vaccinations, it’s not hard to understand why so many kids are falling behind on their schedules.

A 2013 study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that ”an astonishing 49 percent of toddlers born from 2004 through 2008 hadn’t had all their shots by their second birthday, but only about 2 percent had parents who refused to have them vaccinated. They were missing shots for pretty mundane reasons—parents’ work schedules, transportation problems, insurance hiccups.” You may be inclined to think, horrible parenting but try to think for one moment about how hectic and jammed your schedule is. It’s not hard to believe that parents would check a box rather than juggle yet another obligation.

This is terrible, but understandable. How many times have you put off a visit to the dentist until you had a horrible toothache? How many times do you find yourself paying a bill at the last minute, filing your taxes on April 15 – the list goes on. People procrastinate. People fall behind. States making it so easy to opt out of another scheduling obligation are really failing their communities.

“In a 2012 study of vaccine exemption policies across the country, a team of researchers led by Saad Omer, a professor of public health at Emory University, found that of the 20 states that allowed personal belief exemptions for enrollment in a public school or child-care program, less than a third made it “difficult” to do so,” reports Mother Jones. Making it a little more difficult would include things like requiring parents to reapply for an exemption every year, requiring them to write letter or requiring a notarized letter of approval from a health care provider.

Omer’s research also shows that states that make it easy to get a non-medical exemption see a corresponding dip in numbers of schoolchildren who get their shots. Rates of non-medical exemptions in the “easy” states were 2.3 times higher than rates in states with difficult exemption policies. Not only that, but that rate is climbing faster in easy states than it is in difficult states.

This research points to the idea that non-medical exemptions are climbing simply because taking an exemption is easier than dealing with vaccinations. This is disturbing. Clearly, states need to make it just as much of a hassle to get an exemption as it is to make an appointment for the shots.

Non medical exemptions threaten herd immunity, and the fact that these exemptions are climbing is already having some devastating results:

In California, the percentage of kindergartners who get their full set of shots has been dropping since 2008, while the rate of personal belief exemptions jumped by nearly a percentage point in that time. Given that the national average exemption rate is 1.8 percent, that’s a big increase. During a California outbreak of pertussis in 2010, more than 9,000 cases were reported, and ten infants died. It was the worst outbreak of whooping cough in 60 years.

Yes, there are people who really don’t believe in vaccinating their children. But with exemption rates being so much larger in states where it is easy to get one, it’s clear there is more at play here than an anti-vax stance. If parents are indeed skipping vaccinations because it is so easy to do so, public safety dictates that we make it harder.

(photo: yang na/ shutterstock)