Parents who choose not to get their kids vaccinated putting others at risk, study shows

New research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing reports that parents worried about the safety of vaccinations have caused a new problem in the comeback of their grandparents' childhood diseases.

Penn Nursing researcher Alison M. Buttenheim writes in the American Journal of Public Health that a great number of parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated through legally binding person belief exemptions, MedicalNewsToday reports.

Buttenheim explained that this increases the risk of infection for those with compromised immune systems and those who cannot get vaccinations. Traditionally, these people rely on a "herd immunity," meaning their protection comes from those around them being immunized.

The study analyzed data from more than 7,000 pubic and private schools that report to the California Department of Health, according to MedicalNewsToday.

Data showed that the amount of children with personal belief exemptions rose 25 percent in the state, with exempt kids aggregating within individual schools.

"Vaccines are one of the great public health achievements of the last couple of centuries. They protect us from diseases that used to routinely kill hundreds of thousands of children in the United States and still kill hundreds of thousands globally. It's not just important for a child to be vaccinated, it's important at a population level to have high rates of coverage," Buttenheim said, MedicalNewsToday reports.

In 2008 a measles outbreak in California was traced to a child whose parents signed a personal belief exemption affidavit because they didn't believe in some of the immunizations. The child brought the disease back with him from Europe, infecting children in his school and doctor's office.

While 20 states allow exemptions, vaccine-preventable childhood diseases that previously caused many deaths are now a rare occurrence thanks to widespread national vaccination coverage amongst children.

The current routine childhood immunization schedule will prevent an estimated 20 million cases of measles and 42,000 deaths from the disease, which mostly effects young children. It will also save the U.S. $14 billion in direct medical costs, according to MedicalNewsToday.

Buttenheim hopes to increase adherence rates in schools.

"We know everyone is heavily influenced by social norms and pressure, and school nurses can set the expectation that children get fully vaccinated. I think the school nurse can really act as a gatekeeper here, and reset the norm in favor of immunization," Buttenheim said, MedicalNewsToday reports.