How to Opt out of Vaccines for Your Child

Three Parts:Educating Yourself About VaccinationSeeking ExemptionLiving without Immunization

The anti-vaccination movement has received a lot of attention over the last few years. Growing concern on the part of some parents, much of which is scientifically unfounded, regarding the potential drawbacks of child vaccination has led some to seek exemptions for medically-recommended immunization schedules.[1] However, this decision carries significant personal and social risks and should not be taken lightly. If you're considering opting out of vaccines for your child, it is important you first learn about these risks and evaluate the impact you might have on your child and community in doing so. This guide provides useful facts about vaccination and outlines several steps to take if you decide not to have your child vaccinated.

Part 1
Educating Yourself About Vaccination

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    Research the vaccines required by your state. The first step in this process is to learn what your child will be missing out on if you decide not to have him vaccinated. All 50 U.S. states have mandatory child vaccination laws that were put in place to protect American citizens from deadly infectious diseases like measles and whooping cough.[2] Inform yourself about the diseases mandatory vaccines protect against and any medically established complication risks.
    • Do not trust information that has no basis on facts. There are a lot of people on the internet spreading a lot of misinformation that has no medical or scientific validity. Avoid blogs, editorials, and opinion pieces when researching vaccines and stick to objective, peer-reviewed scientific studies published in reputable journals or by trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
    • When learning about vaccine side-effects, pay attention to statistics. Many vaccines carry a very low risk of developing any side effects at all. Potentially adverse effects at the severe end of the spectrum are usually associated with allergies or specific medical conditions and pose zero risk to most children.[3]
    • Know that there is no legitimate link between vaccines and autism. In spite of recent hype surrounding the claim that vaccines cause children to develop autism, such a connection has never been medically established,[4] and autism is better than risking death.[5][6][7] This being the case, autism should not factor into your evaluation of child immunization pros and cons.
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    Weigh the pros and cons. Once you know what your state's mandatory vaccines are designed to do and the likelihood and severity of potential complications, you can evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of vaccinating your child. Be sure to consider issues relevant to both your child and your community as a whole.
    • Make a list for each vaccine in question. While you might not easily arrive at a decision based strictly on the number of benefits versus drawbacks of a having your child vaccinated, this is a good place to start.
    • Take into consideration the weight of the various factors on your list. For some perspective, it may help to look up and write down the symptoms and pre-vaccine fatality rates of the diseases the vaccines are designed to protect against.
    • Recognize that a healthy lifestyle will not stop your child from getting vaccine-preventable diseases.[8] Vegetables can't stop measles from making a child turn deaf.
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    Get the facts on herd immunity. Many parents who choose not to vaccinate their children justify their decision based on the idea that their kids are unlikely to contract a disease or spread it if they are surrounded by others who are vaccinated -- a notion referred to as "herd immunity."[9][10][11][12] Consider the ethical implications of depending on the immunizations of others to protect your child (and others' children) before buying into this idea.
    • Recognize that you are jeopardizing other people's children too. Some people, such as cancer patients,[13] immunocompromised children,[14] and babies not vaccinated yet, depend on herd immunity for their safety.[15] Parents will do their best to keep immunocompromised children away from your unvaccinated child, but it is still possible for your child to infect and unwittingly disable or kill them.[16][17]
    • It is important to realize that by not vaccinating your child, you may be accidentally promoting the outbreak of devastating diseases in your own community. Herd immunity is only effective if 95 to 99% of the population is vaccinated;[18] due to opt-outs, some places in the U.S. now have vaccination rates as low as fifty percent.[19]
    • Even if you decide that the weak communal protection afforded by herd immunity is reason enough to opt out of vaccinations, know that your child will always be susceptible to preventable diseases if they remain unvaccinated. This will mean, for example, that for the rest of their life, they will not be safe to travel to places where vaccines are less commonly used.
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    Talk to your family doctor. If you are having a hard time making sense of all the information out there on child immunization, speak to a physician about the realities of opting out of vaccines. If you still decide to opt out, tell your family practitioner or pediatrician about your decision and ask her to assist you with the exemption paperwork, which in some states requires the signature of a medical doctor.[20]
    • Make sure your doctor is aware of the current research and scientific consensus regarding vaccines and associated risks. Even physicians can be misinformed! Get a second opinion if you feel it is necessary.
    • In order to get unbiased information from your doctor, keep any personal opinions about this issue to yourself during your first conversation. Your doctor may be more likely to relay just the facts if you simply tell her you'd like to learn the details of vaccination pros and cons.

Part 2
Seeking Exemption

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    Learn your state's exemption laws. Every U.S. state has different laws regarding mandatory vaccinations and the channels available (if any) to qualify your child for exemption. Research your state's laws and determine a course of action for legally opting out (as discussed in the next several steps of this guide). This information can be found online on various websites dedicated to vaccine legislation.[21]
    • Regardless of the method you choose for pursuing vaccine exemption, you will need to complete paperwork that states your objection to state mandated vaccination. This might consist of anything from a simple form filled out by the parent to an application that must be signed by a physician and submitted to the state for approval.[22]
    • In some states, your child must have an established, doctor-verified medical reason for opting out of vaccinations. If you do not want your child to be vaccinated but they do not qualify for medical exemption, they will not be allowed to attend public school.
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    Opt out on religious grounds. Most states in the U.S. allow vaccine exemptions on the basis of religious objections, although some (like California) have recently taken away this option after witnessing large outbreaks of preventable diseases. If your faith prohibits your child from receiving medical care, you can pursue a religious exemption from state-mandated immunization.[23]
    • Depending on your state's laws, this type of exemption may require a clergy member or other religious official to verify that you are a member of a church that subscribes to an anti-medicine ideology.
    • It is unethical and irresponsible to claim religious exemption if this does not apply to you. If you are opposed to child immunization for nonreligious reasons, seek a philosophical exemption instead (discussed in a later step).
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    Opt out on medical grounds. If your child has a medical condition or allergy that would cause a serious adverse reaction to certain vaccines, your state likely allows exemption from the vaccine in question. You will need to submit verification of your child's condition from a qualified physician. Ask your doctor how to proceed with this process, as it varies by state.[24]
    • Medical exemptions are extremely difficult to obtain because the list of conditions that legally justify skipping out on your child's immunization is very short. If you have concerns about possible health effects from vaccines, your objection is philosophical, not medical.
    • Some states allow healthcare workers other than M.D.s (medical doctors) and D.O.s (doctors of osteopathic medicine) to submit medical exemption forms, but this is not common.
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    Opt out on philosophical grounds. This type of exemption has only recently been allowed in some U.S. states and is by far the most controversial. If you opt out of immunization for your child on a philosophical basis, you are saying that you have no medical or religious reason for doing so. Only 17 states allow this type of vaccination, and some carry additional requirements such as a physician's signature or completion of a vaccine education course.[25]
    • Different states use different terminology to refer to this type of exemption. Alternative terms include "conscientious" and "personal belief" exemption.
    • This type of exemption requires that the parents (and in some cases the child) officially agree to opt out of all mandated vaccines. Currently, no state allows philosophical exemption from only one or some mandated vaccines.
    • It is critical that you understand the seriousness of deciding to opt out of vaccines on philosophical grounds. It is a very good idea to discuss the matter with a physician, even if your state does not require a doctor's signature to seek this exemption. Additional information about this can be found on the CDC website.[26]
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    Show proof of immunity. This type of exemption from vaccination is only allowed in some states and only applies in situations where the child has already been vaccinated against a specific disease or has naturally contracted and recovered from that disease. In either case, a blood test report verifying the presence of disease antibodies in the child is required. See your family doctor to pursue this type of exemption.
    • Proof of immunity exemptions only apply to the specific disease in question and cannot be used to gain exemption from any other vaccines.
    • Blood testing services can be found in most family medicine clinics and usually carry a fee. Ask your doctor about whether her clinic offers these services.

Part 3
Living without Immunization

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    Arrange for alternative schooling for your child. One of the social consequences of not having your child immunized against preventable diseases is that they will not be allowed to attend public school. Many private schools also will not accept unvaccinated students, so your best option may be to home school your child.
    • Carefully consider your finances and amount of free time. Be aware that your income and budget may not be stable (layoffs, hospitalizations, etc.), so you will need a good "cushion" of extra money.
    • Many colleges require proof of certain vaccinations as a condition of enrollment. If your child remains unvaccinated, they might not be allowed to attend the college of their choice.
    • If your child participates in home school group activities or trips with other unvaccinated children, they may be at higher risk for contracting the diseases they were not vaccinated against. All it takes is one infected child to easily spread these communicable illnesses to the entire group.[27]
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    Never intentionally expose your child to infectious diseases. Some anti-vaccination parents believe that a good alternative to vaccination is to let their child contract certain diseases "naturally" so they can gain immunity that way instead of through vaccination. This is never a safe option and should be avoided entirely, as many of these diseases are extremely deadly.
    • Most of the diseases prevented by childhood immunizations are (fortunately) rare in the U.S. If you do become aware of or come into contact with someone with a disease against which your child has no immunity, keep yourself and your child away from the infected individual however possible.
    • It is important to recognize that the reason vaccines were developed in the first place and are still mandated by all 50 U.S. states is that the diseases against which they protect us are highly contagious and were once responsible for the suffering and death of countless people.[28] Ask yourself whether this is something you want your child to experience.
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    Avoid traveling abroad. Many countries outside the U.S. and Western Europe have significantly higher contagious disease infection rates and much lower proportions of immunized citizens. Traveling to these places with your unvaccinated child greatly increases his chances of becoming dangerously ill while abroad and bringing the infection back home to spread to others.
    • If you are considering a trip abroad with your unvaccinated child, find out whether any of his susceptibilities are cause for concern in your destination country. Be aware that many places in the world recommend or require additional immunizations for foreign visitors. For example, many African countries recommend obtaining a malaria vaccine before visiting.
    • Consider whether this is a sacrifice you are willing to make in order to have an unvaccinated child. Will your family miss out on any experiences as a result of this decision? How much risk are you willing to accept for your child?
    • Think about the influence your decisions now will have on your child when they are an adult. What opportunities will they be denied as an unvaccinated adult? How might their feelings about vaccination differ from yours when they get older?
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    Know the symptoms of any diseases your child is not vaccinated against. Many vaccine-preventable diseases may lead to disability or death. If you know the signs, you can recognize them in your child and take them to the hospital early on, making them more likely to survive.
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    Realize that later-life catch-up is not always an option. While many childhood vaccines may still be received later in life for somewhat lesser protection from certain diseases, others are unsafe for adults beyond a certain age. Find out what the maximum age is for 'catching up' on the various childhood vaccines.[29]
    • If your child is old enough to understand, explain to him that you made the decision not to have him immunized but that he has certain options for catching up on some vaccines later on if he chooses.
    • Speak to a physician about the increased risks associated with off-schedule immunizations.
    • Understand that child immunization schedules are designed to provide maximum benefits and minimum risks from vaccination. Delaying important vaccines while you decide whether or not they are acceptable to you could put your child at unnecessary risk of developing complications later in life.


  • Antibiotic overuse is an issue completely separate from that of child vaccination. Do not make the mistake of interpreting scientific consensus about the dangers of antibiotic overuse as evidence for anything having to do with vaccination. Antibiotic resistance of bacterial strains is an entirely unrelated subject.
  • An easy way to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable information about vaccines is to look for the presence of references or sources in your readings. Opinions are independent of evidence, and even the opinions of physicians may not be based in fact. Stick to information backed by unbiased studies and with plenty of hard evidence.


  • Your child's immune system alone cannot protect them from most communicable diseases. Immune systems can only combat threats they recognize; they need disease-specific antibodies in order to fight back, which they can only get through vaccination or previous disease exposure.
  • Infants are particularly susceptible to severe harm or death if exposed to certain diseases without having been vaccinated. For example, approximately half of infants who contact whooping cough require hospitalization.[30]

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Categories: Allergies and Immunization | Childhood Health