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RELEASE: CAP Recommends Changes to Vaccine-Exemption Policies in Order to Stem Dangerous Disease Outbreaks

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Contact: Katie Peters
Phone: 202.741.6285

Read the report.

Washington, D.C. — With recent outbreaks of whooping cough, pertussis, and measles being reported across the nation, the Center for American Progress today released a report recommending changes to state and federal childhood vaccine-exemption policies in order to better protect communities from potentially dangerous yet highly preventable diseases.

The report, “The Effect of Childhood Vaccine Exemptions on Disease Outbreaks,” provides a comprehensive review of research on state childhood-vaccination mandates and exemption categories, focusing on the role that nonmedical exemptions play in reducing immunization coverage in communities throughout the United States. After reviewing the evidence, the report’s authors outline a series of policy recommendations at the state and federal levels.

For outbreak prevention to be successful, communities need to have the vast majority of their populations—80 percent to 95 percent—vaccinated, but individual state laws allow for nonmedical, personal belief exemptions that put whole communities at risk. According to the report, in recent years, many states have granted a growing number of nonmedical exemptions that allow parents to not vaccinate their children based on nonmedical reasons. As a result, the risk of disease outbreaks—especially among children—has increased.

Limiting nonmedical exemption abuse is the first step toward preventing disease outbreaks. The report’s authors outline the following state and federal policy recommendations:

  • Eliminate states’ personal belief exemptions, as they are not a constitutional requirement and doing so will not infringe on religious exemptions.
  • Limit convenience exemptions by ensuring applicants are informed of the seriousness of this decision.
  •  Focus outreach efforts in counties and communities with higher-than-normal nonmedical exemption rates.
  •  Release a model federal exemption law that states can use to strengthen their existing laws.

Read the brief: The Effect of Childhood Vaccine Exemptions on Disease Outbreaks by Emily Oshima Lee, Lindsay Rosenthal, and Gabriel Scheffler

To speak with a CAP expert on this topic, contact Katie Peters at


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