What Is a Vaccination Exemption?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 28 December 2019
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A vaccination exemption provides the ability to forego mandatory immunizations. This is almost always requested for a public school child, who, in order to enroll in school, might be required to have up to date vaccinations. The available waivers differ regionally, but the most common ask a school to put aside policy on medical grounds. Religious exemptions are also frequently granted, if a parent’s religion forbids the use of vaccinations. Some regions have a personal belief, philosophical or conscientious objection exemption, which parents may use if they don’t want their child vaccinated due to deeply held personal beliefs.

From a legal perspective, requiring vaccinations violates the rights of parents who don’t want them or shouldn’t get them for their kids. Making enrollment, especially in a public school, contingent on a set of vaccines usurps the supervisory rights of parents. It can equally be argued, however, that failing to give vaccinations potentially endangers other children. For example, the medically fragile are much more susceptible to severe illness during breakouts of common preventable diseases, like measles or whooping cough. These outbreaks occur more often among unvaccinated children.

Understandably, there are very strong feelings about this issue on both sides. Some parents threaten not to send children to classes with unvaccinated kids. Other families might refuse to consider any modifications to their views on the policy of demanding vaccinations. Compromises have generally involved granting parents immunization waivers if they meet certain qualifications.


The most liberal vaccination exemption is given on philosophical or personal grounds. The parent merely needs to state a personal opposition to vaccines. Additional requirements might include a doctor’s signature or the notarization of forms. Not all regions allow exemptions of this type.

A medical vaccination exemption is the most frequently offered type. This is appropriate for a small percentage of kids with compromised immune systems, previous allergic reactions to a shot, or allergies to any of a vaccine’s components. Ordinarily, a doctor’s signature is required. Most doctors will not sign this waiver request if the health concern is identified as parental fear about the possible connection between autism and immunizations.

The religious vaccination exemption often simply requires written affirmation from the parent that immunizations violate religious beliefs. Such statements usually don’t ask for proof of an affinity with a church. Parents should not request this exemption, however, if the belief isn’t religious in nature or can’t be traced to a specific religious practice.

Depending on the location and school system, parents may have to file another vaccination exemption in the future. This might be true when transferring a child to a new school district. The child's promotion from one school to another could also require the filing of a new form. Researching local laws is the best way to determine what exemptions are available and how to apply for them.


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