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Official wants more from parents opting out of school vaccines

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PHOENIX – Arizona’s top health official said Wednesday he wants more acknowledgment of the risks from parents citing personal beliefs in opting out of vaccinations required for schoolchildren.

“The personal exemption forms that parents sign in the kindergarten office are pretty brief right now,” said Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

While many states allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for medical reasons and on religious grounds, Arizona is one of the few that allow parents to cite personal or philosophical reasons.

Humble has said the small but steadily growing percentage of children exempted from vaccines could lead to outbreaks.

He said state health officials are reviewing a report by the University of Arizona College of Public Health examining reasons that parents opt out. They will look for “practical interventions” to improve vaccination rates, specifically by decreasing the number of personal exemptions, he said.

Humble suggested changing the current form to require parents to initial next to bullet points outlining the potential consequences of not vaccinating children. For example, an unvaccinated child could be excluded from school for up to a month if an outbreak occurs.

“In the hopes that at least some of them will think twice after they see the specifics about what that choice could potentially result in,” he said.

Other options the report explored included requiring parents talk with a health professional before submitting an exemption form.

Humble said he wouldn’t support that idea based on pediatricians’ concerns cited in the report.

“I don’t want to put an additional burden on our physicians here in Arizona in order to get this intervention done,” Humble said.

Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, sponsored a bill during the 2012 legislative session that would have required such a consultation, but it wasn’t taken up in committee. She said Wednesday she didn’t want to comment on Humble’s suggestion.