New report shows parents should receive vaccine education

A new report found that parents wishing to exempt their children from required vaccinations due to personal beliefs should first be educated on immunization, the Colorado Department of Public Health said on Tuesday.

The stakeholder report was led by three partner organizations, the Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Keystone Center, a neutral, third-party facilitator. The report studied the state's personal belief exemption policy in an effort to update the policy.

Colorado state law requires that students enrolled in schools and licensed child care centers obtain a certificate documenting the child is up to date on all compulsory immunizations. Students may be exempted if a parent files a one-time form claiming personal beliefs against immunization, medical restrictions or religious reasons.

"The personal belief exemption policy should strike a balance between individual rights and our responsibility to protect public health," Larry Wolk, the executive director and chief medical officer of the DPH, said. "We appreciate the thoughtful recommendations of the work group."

Previous studies linked the ease of obtaining a personal belief exemption with a higher incidence of vaccine-preventable illnesses, like pertussis. In Colorado, the incidence of pertussis is 41 percent higher than in states with more restrictive exemption requirements. In 2013 alone, Colorado reported more than 1,100 cases of pertussis.

The report also recommended the publication of school and child care center immunization and exemption rates, requiring a medical provider or health official to sign the exemption form and an annual renewal of the personal belief exemption.