Washington state increases immunization opt-out restrictions

After adopting a law making it tougher for parents to opt-out of vaccinations, the opt-out rate in Washington state has dropped by 25 percent, setting an example for states with easier opt-out policies.

The state's legislature passed the law last year after the state fell to last in childhood immunizations. Kindergarteners opting out of state immunization requirements peaked at 7.6 percent in the 2008-2009 school year, creating concern among public health experts, the New York Times reports.

"You think we're a cut above the rest, but there's something in this culture out West," Maxine Hayes, the state health officer for Washington's Department of Health, said, according to the New York Times. "It's a sort of defiance. A distrust of the government."

The success of vaccines against diseases like measles and polio has made parents think the immunizations are less necessary.

"Vaccines are the victims of their own success," Paul A. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said, according to the New York Times. "When they work, nothing happens."

Distrust of the medical establishment and the spread of false information of vaccine have also contributed to the rising opt-out rates.

A study published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that despite efforts to educate the public on the necessity for immunization, more parents are opting out of the requirements. The opt-out rate is growing faster in states that make vaccination opt-outs easier. More stringent opt-out policies can make a major difference, the New York Times reports.

"These laws have an impact," Saad Omer, the leader of the study, said, according to the New York Times. "The idea is to nudge the balance of convenience away from getting exemptions."