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Wealthiest counties in Alabama also have highest rates of vaccine exemptions

Vaccination rates by county

The rates of religious exemptions in two of the wealthiest counties in Alabama, Shelby and Baldwin Counties, are several times higher than most counties in the state, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The rate of religious exemptions in Shelby County is 1.5 percent of students, and in Baldwin County it’s 1.3 percent. Across the state, the rate of religious exemption is just .43 percent

That follows a trend across the country where well-educated parents in affluent communities have chosen to opt out of required vaccines by filing exemptions.

The rate of religious exemption in Alabama is much lower than exemption rates in some other states. The average exemption rate in California is 2.5 percent, and in some counties it is above 7 percent.

But it still concerns public health experts, because the highest rates of exemptions are concentrated in counties where parents are educated about requirements and have access to medical care.

“In my career, I have actually been able to see these diseases go away,” said Dr. Karen Landers, a pediatrician who works with the Alabama Department of Public Health. “I haven’t seen a case of measles in many, many years. While our vaccination rates are high, the refusal among patients with access to information is very troubling.”

Still, the number of students with religious exemptions in Alabama is dwarfed by the number with expired or nonexistent vaccine records. Many of those students live in impoverished areas.

Mark Largent, a professor at Michigan State University, is the author of “The Modern American Vaccine Debate.” He said vaccine compliance is lower in poorer counties, where there are fewer resources to enforce vaccine requirements for school. In higher income counties, parents often face the choice between fully vaccinating their children or getting an exemption in order to send them to public schools.

“These parents also have a willingness to question authority,” Largent said.

Both Shelby and Baldwin Counties have high overall vaccination rates. And Landers said she has recently begun to hear from some parents who are rethinking exemptions.

“If you want to come back, please come back,” she said. “I would rather not see measles make a come back.”

by: Amy Yurkanin Рayurkanin@al.com

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