If You Choose Not to Vaccinate Your Child, Understand the Risk and Responsibilities

If you choose to delay some vaccines or reject some vaccines entirely, there can be risks. Please follow these steps to protect your child, your family, and others.

With the decision to delay or reject vaccines comes an important responsibility that could save your child’s life, or the life of someone else.

  • When you call 911, ride in an ambulance, visit a hospital emergency room, or visit your child’s doctor or any clinic.
    • Tell the medical staff that your child has not received all of the vaccines recommended for his or her age.
    • Keep a vaccination record easily accessible and share it with the clinician.

Telling healthcare professionals your child’s vaccination status is essential for two reasons:

  • When your child is being evaluated, the doctor will need to consider the possibility that your child has a vaccine-preventable disease (VPD); while uncommon, VPDs still occur.
  • The people who help your child can take precautions, such as isolating your child, so that the disease does not spread to others.
    • One group at high risk for contracting disease is infants, who are too young to be fully vaccinated.
    • Other people are those with weaker immune systems, such as some people with cancer and transplant recipients.

Before an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease occurs in your community:

  • Talk to your child’s doctor or nurse to be sure your child’s medical record is up to date regarding vaccination status.
  • Inform your child’s school, childcare facility, and other caregivers about your child’s vaccination status.
  • Be aware that your child can catch diseases from people who don’t have any symptoms.
children at school

Inform your child’s school or childcare facility about your child’s vaccination status.

When there is vaccine-preventable disease in your community:

  • It may not be too late to get protection by getting vaccinated. Ask your child’s doctor.
  • You may be asked to take your child out of school, daycare, or organized activities (for example, playgroups or sports).
  • Be prepared to keep your child home for several days up to several weeks. Your school, childcare facility, or other institution will tell you when it is safe for an unvaccinated child to return.
  • Learn about the disease and how it is spread. It may not be possible to avoid exposure.
  • Talk with your child’s doctor or the health department to get their guidelines for determining when your child is no longer at risk of coming down with the disease.

If you know your child is exposed to a vaccine-preventable disease for which he or she has not been vaccinated:

  • Learn the early signs and symptoms of the disease.
  • Seek immediate medical help if your child or any family members develop early signs or symptoms of the disease.

IMPORTANT: Notify the doctor’s office, urgent care facility, ambulance personnel, or emergency room staff that your child has not been fully vaccinated before medical staff have contact with your child or your family members.

  • Follow recommendations to isolate your child from others, including family members, and especially infants and people with weakened immune systems.
    • Most vaccine-preventable diseases can be very dangerous to infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated, or children who are not vaccinated due to certain medical conditions.
  • Be aware that for some vaccine-preventable diseases, there are medicines to treat infected people and medicines to keep people they come in contact with from getting the disease.
  • Ask your health care professional about other ways to protect your family members and anyone else who may come into contact with your child.
  • Your family may be contacted by the state or local health department who track infectious disease outbreaks in the community.

If you travel with your child:

  • Review the CDC travelers’ information website before traveling to learn about possible disease risks and vaccines that will protect your family. Vaccine preventable diseases remain common throughout the world, including Europe.
  • Don’t spread disease to others. If an unimmunized person develops a vaccine-preventable disease while traveling, to prevent transmission to others, he or she should not travel by plane, train, or bus until a doctor determines the person is no longer contagious.
child with mother at airport

Before traveling, learn about possible disease risks and vaccines that will protect your family.

Be aware.

  • Any vaccine preventable disease can strike at any time in the U.S.; all of these diseases still circulate either in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world.
  • Sometimes vaccine-preventable diseases cause outbreaks (clusters of cases in a given area).
  • Vaccine-preventable diseases that still circulate in the U.S. include:
    • Whooping cough, chickenpox, Hib (a cause of meningitis), and influenza
  • Vaccine-preventable diseases can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.

In most cases, there is no way to know beforehand if a child will get a mild or serious case.

  • For some diseases, one case is enough to cause concern in a community.
    • An example of this is measles, which is one of the most contagious viral diseases known. The disease spreads quickly among people who are not immune.

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Page last reviewed: August 3, 2016