ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — The state you live in and its policies could influence how many people are getting vaccinated and how many are experiencing disease outbreaks, according to new research.

University of Georgia researchers found higher rates of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in states that allowed vaccine exemptions and used a standardized exemption form, as reported by Medical Xpress.

The study found that vaccination exemption rates have increased dramatically over the last decade, mostly due to religious or philosophical reasons. Aside from three states, exemptions based on religious reasons are accepted within the U.S. Seventeen states allow philosophical exemptions and 39 states allow a standardized exemption form.

“We are seeing a significant association between pertussis rates and vaccination exemption,” study co-author David Bradford told Medical Xpress. “States with stricter policies have lower pertussis rates, which shows that policymakers do have it within their power to further limit the spread of these diseases.”

Researchers used kindergarten exemption data on pertussis, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its 2002-12 annual reports. About 48,000 cases of the infection were recorded in the U.S. during 2012. The study found that lower whooping cough rates were found in states that required health department approval for non medical vaccination exemptions, allowed exemptions from only specific vaccines, and levied criminal and civil punishment against those who did not cooperate with vaccination policies.

The states with the most effective vaccination exemption policies include Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.

The states with the least effective vaccination exemption policies were Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Bradford says some states could eliminate the use of standardized exemption forms to improve their standings. As less people get vaccinated, diseases once considered to be nearly eliminated in the country have risen as communities are not entirely protected.

“We need to be over 95 percent vaccinated to reach herd immunity,” Bradford said. “For medical reasons, there a number of people who can’t get vaccinated. If you can be vaccinated and are not, that’s when we start to see whooping cough and measles cases rise.”


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