HOUMA, La. — With the start of school comes vaccination requirements, and Louisiana is one of 15 states that allow parents to request for exemptions based on religious and philosophical reasons.

Despite this broad allowance, the Louisiana Department of Health strongly recommends for children to receive the vaccines appropriate for their age.

“Immunizations reduce preventable death and disability for an individual child, interrupt disease transmission in communities and decrease the number of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in Louisiana,” according to the state Health Department.

State law recommends for students to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, meningococcal disease, and hemophilus influenzae Type B invasive infections.

Thirty states allow students to only be exempted on the basis of religion. Minnesota allows exemptions for philosophical requests.

Five states -- California, New York, West Virginia, Mississippi and Maine -- don’t allow students to be exempted from vaccinations.

In the Lafourche Parish School District, 17 exemption requests were submitted for the 2018-19 school year. Over the past five years, that number has ranged from 14 to 19 requests, except in 2016 when seven were submitted.

In Terrebonne Parish, Kim Vauclin, schools supervisor of child welfare and attendance, said the central office could not provide data on how many students in the system received exemptions over the past five years as those records are kept on the school level.

Parents fill out the required form at the central office, and then it is sent to school administrators. State law puts the school administrators in charge of compliance.

“I cannot deny a written exemption request. Whatever the parent puts as the excuse has to be accepted,” Vauclin said.

According to the state Health Department immunization database, 2.67 percent of kindergarteners in Terrebonne Parish for the 2018-19 school year were exempted.

Last school year, Cameron Parish saw 4.82 percent of its kindergarten class exempted from vaccines, the highest percentage in the state.

Medical exemptions, filled out by a physician, are also accepted.

Across the country, fewer people are vaccinating their children, a health issue that has led to the resurgence of measles. The vaccines are designed to create “herd immunity,” which prevents highly contagious diseases from spreading if enough of the population is immune.

“Vaccines are the safest and most effective tool we have to prevent serious and sometimes fatal diseases like pertussis (whooping cough), measles, tetanus, hepatitis B, diphtheria, as well as others,” the state Health Department said.

Lafourche Parish schools started up again for the 2019-20 year on Thursday. Terrebonne Parish schools resume classes Monday.


Houma Courier Staff Writer Halle Parker can be reached at hparker@houmatoday.com or 857-2204. Follow her on Twitter, @_thehalparker.