Fewer parents in our area are vaccinating their children, data says

PITTSBURGH — The number of students getting exemptions for vaccinations is on the rise in nearly every county in western Pennsylvania.

11 Investigates dug through the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Safe Schools database, which school districts statewide are required to submit information to annually.

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Nearly every county Western Pennsylvania saw the number of students getting exemptions for vaccinations increase in the 2017-2018 school year, the most recent data available, compared to four years earlier.

That list includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington, and Westmoreland counties.

State law allows parents to get a vaccination exemption for their kids using a religious, philosophical or medical exemption.

"As pediatricians, it really worries us to see children not getting vaccinated as they should," said Dr. John Williams, the Chief of Infectious Diseases at UPMC Children's Hospital.

The majority of the counties have exemption levels below five percent.

But Williams said exemptions above that threshold creates an environment for preventable diseases to spread.

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"People don't think about infections that are less common. But then when there's an outbreak people are aware and thinking this is still there, I need to worry about it," he said.

Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Indiana, and Lawrence counties had vaccination exemption levels between five and 10 percent in the 2017-2018 school year.

Read more about Pennsylvania's immunization statistics HERE.

"As parents, we have to decide what is truly best for our child and that includes medical care," said Diana Campbell, a Chippewa Township who now chooses not to vaccinate her children.

Campbell said her daughter dealt with medical problems after being vaccinated.

It led her to joining the Pennsylvania Coalition for Informed Consent, a group fighting for families rights to refuse or delay vaccinations.

"People aren't just opting out of vaccines because they want to. Many families are experiencing and dealing with health issues that are resulting from those adverse reactions," Campbell said.

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But other parents like Jonathan Pollett of Mt. Lebanon sees vaccinations as an important step to protecting his children.

"I'm still from the generation that had the polio vaccines back when you had scars from the vaccine and that disease was pretty much wiped out," he said. "It's just something we do to keep our kids safe."