At the turn of the century, the United States declared measles eradicated from our country. Fast forward to 2017, when Minnesota experienced the largest outbreak of measles in 20 years. This outbreak cost Minnesota an estimated $1 million and approximately 90 percent of those infected by this outbreak were unvaccinated children. Only 60 percent of Minnesota children received all seven vaccinations as advised by the CDC, as compared to the national average of 75 percent. This is particularly alarming in the Somali community, where vaccination rates have been declining faster than in the non-Somali population, largely due to anti-vaccination efforts.
Last year, 1,968 Minnesotan kindergartners did not have all the vaccinations recommended by the CDC, and only 5 percent of these children were exempt for medical reasons. In Minnesota, parents can get a medical exemption for their children relatively easily. In addition to medical exemptions for people with conditions such as HIV or pediatric cancer that make vaccination dangerous, subsection 3 of the Health Standards for Immunizations of School Children of Minnesota allows parents to get an exemption by presenting a notarized note saying they do not wish for their children to be vaccinated.
Clearly, non-medical exemptions for vaccinating school children has led to the increased spread of preventable diseases in Minnesota. When children cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions, the concept of herd immunity helps protect those students by preventing the spread of disease by creating a high proportion of individuals who are immune to the disease. Other states, such as California, have passed laws that only allow medical exemptions for vaccination to increase the herd immunity and prevent infectious diseases from spreading.
The California Senate passed Bill 277, which outlawed personal belief medical exceptions after the 2015 Disneyland outbreak of measles that infected 159 people. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill found that low vaccination rates exacerbated the spread of this disease. Since this law was enacted, the number of children who are unvaccinated has been cut in half. California’s cases of measles have decreased significantly since the 2015 outbreak, and can be largely attributed to the passing of this law.
The success of the California Senate Bill 277 shows that only allowing medical exemptions can be a positive contribution to the community. Minnesota legislation should consider an amendment or new law that bans personal belief exemptions. Our state is a leader in so many areas, especially healthcare, and we need to be on the forefront of protecting our children from preventable diseases.
This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Sarah Weatherman is a University of Minnesota graduate student pursuing a MBA.