Vaccination exemptions up over past decade in Florida

The percentages of kindergarten and seventh-grade children who have religious exemptions from vaccination requirements have reached all-time highs after steadily increasing over the past decade.

A Florida Department of Health report on immunizations for the 2019-2020 academic year shows the rates of kindergarten and seventh-grade students statewide with religious exemptions from vaccinations are 3 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. Both rates are at all-time highs.

Florida’s goal for the 2019-2020 academic year was for 95 percent of students to be vaccinated. The state exceeded that goal for seventh-grade students, with a 96.1 percent immunization rate but fell short when it came to kindergarten students, with a 93.5 percent immunization rate.

Florida law says children may not attend school without proper documentation of vaccinations or exemptions from vaccination. Kindergarten entry includes vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus toxoids; poliovirus vaccine; measles, mumps, and rubella; hepatitis B and varicella vaccine. Seventh-grade students must also have additional vaccinations for diphtheria and tetanus.

Students can receive temporary medical exemptions, permanent medical exemptions, or religious exemptions. The April 21 report indicates that the rate of religious exemptions at private schools in 2019-2020 is nearly double the rate of exemptions at public schools, for both kindergarten and seventh-grade students. Private schools’ religious exemption rate for kindergarten students was 5.2 percent, compared to a 2.7 percent rate for public-school children.

Likewise, the religious exemption rate for seventh graders was 3.4 percent at private schools, compared to 1.8 percent for private schools. The Department of Health annually publishes the report. It is based on data that public schools report to the Florida Department of Education and information private schools report to county health departments.