TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The number of parents in Idaho seeking vaccination exemptions for their children has increased during the past five years, state Department of Health and Welfare officials said.
During the current school year, about 370 children in south-central Idaho were exempted from vaccinations, the Times-News reported Monday.
That's about 4 percent of the kids enrolled in school in the region — and an 88 percent increase compared with the number of kids exempted from vaccinations in 2008.
Idaho requires students in kindergarten through seventh grade to receive several immunizations before attending school, including vaccines for tetanus, pertussis and polio.
But the state allows parents to exempt their children for medical, religious and philosophical reasons. Philosophical reasons have been the most-frequent exemption since 2008.
If more children stop getting the shots, the chances of catching potentially fatal diseases such as polio increase, said Lisa Klamm, South Central Public Health District nurse.
"That's the long and short end of it," she said. "Think about what people died from in the 1910s. It was smallpox, polio and measles. People don't die from that today, but if we don't keep educating ourselves, history will repeat itself."
Klamm said she fears people are making the decision not to vaccinate because they're frightened by misinformation. Parents looking to learn more about vaccines should turn to qualified sources, not questionable websites, she said.
Idaho's immunization rates have been among the lowest in the nation. In 2010, health officials reported the state's immunization rate for children 19 months to 35 months old is 66 percent, compared to the national average of 77 percent.
Idaho health districts have raised concerns that rate could lead to disease outbreaks, and that unimmunized older children can put very young infants and those who can't be immunized for medical reasons at risk.