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Back to School Without Vaccines? Growing Concern in Some States

2:22

As kids across the country head back to school, a growing number may walk through the doors without first getting vaccines.

All 50 states require vaccinations for children going to public school, but nearly every state allows exemptions. In Vermont, Michigan, Idaho and Oregon more than 5 percent of kindergartners had non-medical exemptions last year, according to the CDC, well above the national average of 1.8 percent. Nationally, rates have been declining for many childhood vaccines.

The CDC said Thursday that while vaccination rates increased or remained stable for routine childhood vaccines last year, coverage varied by state, leaving some communities vulnerable. Parents can opt out nearly everywhere for religious reasons, and in some states personal belief objections are also allowed. That provides an out for parents who believe against scientific evidence that vaccines are dangerous.

There have been outbreaks of preventable disease all over the country in recent years — including whooping cough in California and measles in Ohio.

“The interesting thing is that the demographic is upper middle class. Highly educated moms,” Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University told NBC News. “They don't have an appreciation of the seriousness of these illnesses.”

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-Stephanie Gosk and Jane Derenowski