So are there any legitimate reasons to skip a flu shot?
In fact, three very good reasons to skip a flu shot include:
being younger than 6 months of age
having a severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) after a previous dose of flu vaccine or to any component of the flu vaccine
Actually, although folks might have many of bad excuses, there are only two good reasons to skip a flu shot…
So, infants who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated yet, and anyone who has had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose.
Additional precautions, but not true contraindications, do including having had Guillain-Barré syndrome <6 weeks after a previous dose of influenza vaccine and having a moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever when you are planning to get vaccinated.
Even if you have had a severe reaction to eggs, you can still get a flu shot. Just get it get it in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting (such as a hospital, clinic, health department, or physician’s office), so that you can be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.
Are you skipping the flu shot because you never get sick? How lucky do you feel this year? Don’t continue to gamble that you won’t get the flu. Increase your chances of staying well by getting a flu shot, the best way to avoid the flu.
The way that these laws and exemptions are set up leaves a lot of room for abuse though.
Abuse of Religious Exemptions
How many religions are actually against kids getting vaccinated?
That’s right, almost none.
So why are there so many religious vaccine exemptions in most states, especially in states that don’t have a personal belief exemption?
Folks who don’t want to vaccinate their kids, and can’t use a personal belief exemption, just say that vaccinating them would be against their religion.
Abuse of Medical Exemptions
There are some children who shouldn’t be vaccinated.
These children can get a true medical exemption to one or more vaccines because they have a real contraindication or precaution to getting vaccinated.
“If a child has a medical exemption to immunization, a physician licensed to practice medicine in New York State must certify that the immunization is detrimental to the child’s health. The medical exemption should specify which immunization is detrimental to the child’s health, provide information as to why the immunization is contraindicated based on current accepted medical practice, and specify the length of time the immunization is medically contraindicated, if known.”
Dear Colleague letter regarding guidelines for use of immunization exemptions
a moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever (precaution)
a progressive neurologic disorder (precaution)
Most other things are “incorrectly perceived as contraindications to vaccination” and should not be a medical exemptions, including having :
a mild acute illness with or without fever
a mild to moderate local reaction
relatives with allergies
a family history of seizures
a stable neurologic condition
an autoimmune disease
a family history of an adverse event after DTP or DTaP administration
A medical exemption can also exist if your child already had the disease and so has natural immunity. In most cases, except for chicken pox disease, titers will likely need to be done to prove that your child already has immunity.
Stopping the Abuse of Vaccine Exemptions
We know that vaccine exemptions are being abused.
How do you stop it?
“Permitting personal belief exemptions and easily granting exemptions are associated with higher and increasing nonmedical US exemption rates. State policies granting personal belief exemptions and states that easily grant exemptions are associated with increased pertussis incidence.”
Omer et al on Nonmedical exemptions to school immunization requirements: secular trends and association of state policies with pertussis incidence.
You likely have to make it harder to get a vaccine exemption.
Strong exemption laws, which are needed in many states, make it clear that:
many exemptions are temporary
medical exemptions are based on ACIP guidelines, current accepted medical practice, and evidence based medicine – not anecdotes
religious exemptions specifically exclude philosophical exemptions and must reflect a sincere religious belief
exempted students will be excluded from school during outbreaks
exemptions should include a signed affidavit that is notarized
exemptions should be recertified each year
a separate exemption application will be needed for each vaccine
“Because rare medically recognized contraindications for specific individuals to receive specific vaccines exist, legitimate medical exemptions to immunization requirements are important to observe. However, nonmedical exemptions to immunization requirements are problematic because of medical, public health, and ethical reasons and create unnecessary risk to both individual people and communities.”
AAP on Medical Versus Nonmedical Immunization Exemptions for Child Care and School Attendance
You could also get rid of nonmedical vaccine exemptions.
Of course, for that to work, you can’t allow just anything to count as a medical exemption.
“Review of all medical exemption requests will be conducted at the Mississippi State Department of Health by the State Epidemiologist or Deputy State Epidemiologist.”
Mississippi Medical Exemption Policy
In Mississippi, for example, where medical exemptions are reviewed and approved by the State Epidemiologist or Deputy State Epidemiologist, there were just 208 medical exemptions in the whole state during the 2016-17 school year.
In some states, rates of medical exemptions might be six or seven times higher. This is mostly seen in states that don’t allow personal belief exemptions and make it difficult to get a religious exemption.
That seems to be the case in Nebraska, where there are no personal belief exemptions and you have to submit a notarized statement to get a religious exemptions. Their high rates of medical exemptions likely reflect some abuse and the fact that medical exemptions aren’t reviewed or approved by anyone, they just reflect “that, in the health care provider’s opinion, the specified immunization(s) required would be injurious to the health and well – being of the student or any member of the student’s family or household.”
As we are seeing, that simply invites vaccine exemption abuse.
Very few states currently require that exemption applications go to the health department for review. Those that do include Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
California is notably absent. I guess they didn’t see the potential for abuse when they passed their latest vaccine law. I mean, who could have guessed that doctors would actually be selling medical exemptions to parents based on unrelated conditions, like a family history of diabetes, celiac disease, or autism?
At the very least, until we have stronger exemption laws, parents who want to get a nonmedical exemption should acknowledge that they understand the risks they are taking when they skip or delay their child’s vaccines.
What to Know About Abuse of Vaccine Exemptions
While medical exemptions are necessary for kids who have true contraindications to getting vaccinated, stronger laws can help decrease the abuse we see in medical, religious, and personal belief vaccine exemptions.
There are some true medical contraindications and precautions to getting vaccinated though. Still, it is important to remember that even more things are simply “conditions incorrectly perceived as contraindications to vaccination.”
Contraindications To Vaccinating Your Kids
There are actually some good reasons to delay or skip one or a few of your child’s vaccines, but only in some very specific situations.
These very specific situations are called contraindications and are what count as medical exemptions.
“A vaccine should not be administered when a contraindication is present; for example, MMR vaccine should not be administered to severely immunocompromised persons.”
CDC on Vaccine Contraindications and Precautions
Fortunately, there are not that many of these contraindications, they are usually specific to just one or a few vaccines, and they are usually, but not always, temporary.
That’s why it would be really unusual to get a true permanent medical exemption for all vaccines. Even if you had a severe allergy to a vaccine that contained yeast, latex, or gelatin, since vaccines contain different ingredients, you would very likely be able to safely get the others.
Remember, your doctor can’t, or at least shouldn’t, just make up contraindications and exemptions to help you avoid getting your kids vaccinated and help you keep them in school.
“I do not believe vaccines had anything to do with my child’s autism. I never noticed any change in his speech, behavior or development with vaccines. I believe the protection and benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks!”
Michele Han, MD, FAAP
Autism, for example, has been shown to not be associated with vaccines, so it is not a contraindication to getting vaccinated. That’s why many parents vaccinate and protect their autistic kids!
Precautions To Vaccinating Your Kids
In addition to contraindications to getting vaccinated, there is an accompanying list of precautions.
“A precaution is a condition in a recipient that might increase the risk for a serious adverse reaction, might cause diagnostic confusion, or might compromise the ability of the vaccine to produce immunity (e.g., administering measles vaccine to a person with passive immunity to measles from a blood transfusion administered up to 7 months prior). A person might experience a more severe reaction to the vaccine than would have otherwise been expected; however, the risk for this happening is less than the risk expected with a contraindication. In general, vaccinations should be deferred when a precaution is present. However, a vaccination might be indicated in the presence of a precaution if the benefit of protection from the vaccine outweighs the risk for an adverse reaction.”
CDC on Vaccine Contraindications and Precautions
Again, we are fortunate that most of the conditions that are listed as precautions are temporary.
In fact, the most common is having a “moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever.”
Don’t want to get your child vaccinated when he or she has a severe illness?
Your pediatrician usually doesn’t want to vaccinate your child in that situation either.
It is easy enough to wait a few days or a week to get vaccinated, when the illness has passed, keeping in mind that a “mild acute illness with or without fever” is neither a precaution nor a contraindication to getting vaccinated. So you can still get your child their recommended vaccines if they just have a cold, stomach bug, or ear infection, etc.
What to Know About Precautions and Contraindications to Vaccines
Although there are some true medical exemptions or contraindications and precautions to getting vaccinated, most are vaccine specific and many are temporary, so they shouldn’t keep you from getting your child at least mostly vaccinated and protected.
More on Precautions and Contraindications to Vaccines