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In wake of measles outbreak, MN lawmakers take aim at vaccination opt-out

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The vaccinations debate has hit the Minnesota Legislature, with a group of lawmakers hoping to make opting out a bit more difficult.

State law currently allows parents to choose not to vaccinate their children based on personal beliefs – all they have to do is get a notarized letter that says the state's requirements go against their "conscientiously held beliefs," MPR News reports.

But Rep. Mike Freiberg, a democrat from Golden Valley, says he believes "some parents do not understand the overwhelming evidence that vaccinations prevent serious illness," a news release says.

His bill would not eliminate the opt-out opportunity, but would require people who don't want their children vaccinated to consult a doctor first, in order to learn the risks.

Opponents of mandatory vaccinations say it should be up to parents, not the government, to choose whether medicine is right for their child. There is also concern about what may be in the vaccines, and possible long-term effects.

Freiberg's bill (which has a companion in the Senate) comes as political leaders across the country consider making it harder to exempt children from getting vaccinations, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) notes. A recent measles outbreak has affected at least 121 people.

How Minnesota compares

All 50 states have legislation that requires children be immunized, but offer an exemption if there is a medical reason for the child not to be.

In addition, there are 20 states, including Minnesota, that allow personal beliefs as a reason for opting out, the NCLS says, and a majority also offer exemptions based on religious beliefs.

But not many parents have used this reason.

Fewer than 3 percent of kindergarten parents claimed non-medical exemption from vaccines for the 2013-14 school year, according to Minnesota Department of Public Health data. While less than 0.05 percent claimed medical exemptions from all vaccines.

Preventing an outbreak

State data shows that 93.37 percent of kindergartners in the 2013-14 school year received their MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot. And although that's a fairly high vaccination rate, health officials say it isn't quite high enough to prevent a measles outbreak in Minnesota.

For a vaccine to be effective, a certain percentage of people in a population need to be immunized (it's called "herd immunity"), which helps prevent the disease from spreading through populations more easily, Vox says.

For measles, 95 percent of people in a community need to be vaccinated against MMR.

The Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which continues to urge parents to vaccinate their children against the measles, believes Freiberg's bill will help Minnesota's immunization rate get into the 95 percent.

Dr. Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic and former president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is backing Freiberg's proposal because he believes doctors will be able to change the minds of some parents who claim to be against vaccines, MPR News notes.

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