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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Drexel Study: State Lawmakers See Legal Barriers to Reducing Childhood Vaccine Requirements

Despite an uptick in anti-vaccine legislation proposed by state lawmakers in recent years, pro-vaccine bills were more likely to be enacted into law, according to a new study by researchers at Drexel University. The results were published this week in the American Journal of Public Health.

“It is reassuring to know that the legislative process is working in favor of public health. It is concerning that there are so many anti-vaccination bills introduced, but our study shows that those bills are rarely signed into law,” said study principal investigator  Dr. Neal D. Goldstein, an assistant research professor in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health.

The use of non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements increased nationwide by 19 percent from 2009 to 2013, which has led to a disease resurgence in communities across the United States. However, both pro- and anti-vaccination policies vary widely state-by-state. The Drexel study, which analyzed all proposed and enacted vaccine legislation at the state level between 2011 and 2017, offers one of the first in-depth pictures of the country’s vaccination policy climate.

Proposed laws that would directly impact states’ immunization exemption laws have increased over time. In 2011, there were 14 total vaccine-related bills proposed, compared to 41 in 2017.

“If you only look at current laws, that’s history. But analyzing proposed bills gives us a flavor for what’s happening now, and perhaps for what’s to come. Are we seeing trends that may be concerning for the future?” Dr. Goldstein said.

During the seven-year study period, 175 bills related to immunization exemptions were introduced in state legislatures, with the volume increasing significantly over time. In 2011, there were 14 total bills proposed, compared to 41 in 2017.

The researchers found that the majority of vaccination legislation activity between 2011 and 2017 was consolidated to four states: New Jersey (29 total bills), New York (28), West Virginia (15) and Mississippi (12). New Jersey introduced the highest number of anti-vaccination bills (24), while New York and West Virginia introduced 14.

Of the 175 vaccination bills introduced, 92 (53 percent) were classified as anti-vaccine, and 83 (47 percent) were classified as pro-vaccine. Thirteen of the total number of bills (7 percent) were signed into law.

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