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Aug 29, 2012 12:14 PM by Siera Santos

New Mexico alters child vaccination waiver form

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico heath officials want parents to stop citing philosophical reasons when seeking to exempt their children from immunizations required to attend public school or day care.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports (http://bit.ly/QSAT9X ) that the New Mexico Department of Health recently changed the form used to apply for an exemption to prevent "philosophical objections" over health concerns.

"We believe people were using the philosophical objections when filling out the form," department spokesman Kenny Vigil wrote in a response to a reporter's inquiries Tuesday. "We became concerned that vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise because of that. The new form specifically requires you to state your religious belief."

The legal reasons that a child may avoid getting vaccinated are medical and religious, officials said.

The old form had asked parents to affirm that they held religious beliefs, either jointly or individually, that didn't allow them to have their children vaccinated, but the form didn't require parents to state the exact nature of their beliefs. The new form does.

Parents aren't the only ones who thought New Mexico allowed philosophical objections to immunization rules. As recently as February, the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures, which gathers regulatory data from across the nation, listed New Mexico as a state that allowed philosophical exemptions, sort of.

A chart listing allowable exemptions in each state showed "yes" under the philosophical objections column for the state of New Mexico but qualified that with a footnote that said: "The New Mexico Department of Health interprets the state's exemption based on individual or jointly held religious beliefs as a philosophical exemption."

The New Mexico agency said compliance with state law was a major reason for the change and that the old form, while legal, allowed for misinterpretation of the law.

Vigil, the department spokesman, said Tuesday that he couldn't say whether parents could submit "a certificate of conscientious objection to immunization," as described in the law, in lieu of filling out the new form that requires the applicant to state a specific religious doctrine.

According to data provided by the department, exemption rates in 2003 were about 3.2 percent when 1,799 of the 570,833 children subject to the immunization requirement got exemptions. Last year, the rate was around 5.8 percent when 3,372 of the 580,210 children of immunization age received exemptions.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com

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