Rate of religious exemptions for vaccines high in Walton County

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Five percent of children in Walton County have a religious exemption from vaccinations, and the Department of Health in Walton County said 13 percent of those children live south of the Choctawhatchee Bay.

The Department of Health in Walton County released a study that shows 13.2 percent of children that live below the Choctawhatchee Bay have religious exemptions from vaccinations. (WJHG/WECP)

This means there is no "herd immunity,” which the Center for Disease Control defines as a sufficient proportion of a population being immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make it spreading from person to person unlikely.

According to a local pediatrician, if vaccination rates fall below 90 percent, it can put the entire community at risk.

"People who don't vaccinate, majority of the time, they'll get away with it, but like I tell people, vaccinating is kind of like not wearing a car seat, you're doing fine until you get in a wreck," said Doctor Rickey Viator, pediatrician at Ascension Sacred Heart.

Viator says he rarely has to see children for things like bacterial meningitis because of vaccines.

"I haven't had to treat a child for bacterial meningitis probably in over 25 years, and that's why this office, we really don't accept people who don't vaccinate because it puts the other children in the waiting room at risk," said Viator.

One local pastor said that some Christian denominations do not offer religious exemptions for vaccines.

"You know from my tradition, and my husband is an Episcopal priest and I'm familiar with the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church, and none of those religious denominations or faith traditions encourage religious exemption around vaccination," said Emily Proctor an ordained Presbyterian pastor.

The executive nursing director for the Department of Health says with the fluid population in South Walton, there needs to be a push to increase the number of vaccinated kids.

"We have a very fluid group of people in our county, they travel, we have a lot of people that come from other countries, that are in our county, so we really need to look hard at our vaccinations and protect our citizens and our children," said Kathryn Barley, registered nurse and executive director of nursing for the Department of Health.

A Gallup poll released this week shows fewer people in the U.S. view vaccinations as important. That poll shows 84 percent said vaccinating children is important, down from 94 percent in 2001.

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