ATLANTA (CBS46) – Children ages 5-11 are now eligible for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

But the real question is: will the parents get them vaccinated?

Parents have been using the religious exception since the 1960s to keep their children away from vaccines such as measles, mumps, and other diseases.

And while the COVID vaccine is not mandatory in Georgia schools, the increased use of exemptions could anticipate some of the distribution challenges ahead.

“We’ve been to the emergency room a lot,” said Erin Cassel, Atlanta mom.

This is how Cassel remembers the first six months of her son’s life.

“There were definitely some creepy nights when it took on different colors,

“He got infections – bronchiolitis – which is the infant version of bronchitis. There were definitely some creepy nights where it took on different colors, weird shades of purple and gray, ”said Cassel. “It’s not fun to watch.”

Body – Erin Cassel

Bodie was a high risk toddler, which meant close contact with a sick child could throw him into a spiral of health complications.

“So my really, really sick child comes into winter without a flu shot and without protection. And any child who is around a child who cannot get a flu shot puts them in a life or death situation, ”said Cassel.

It all stems from herd immunity, which only occurs when a significant portion of the population is vaccinated – so the weak among us are less likely to come into contact with the disease.

“When you think of a cocoon, you think of a butterfly. It makes itself a protective layer. This cocoon is herd immunity. While the butterfly is changing as we have people susceptible to disease inside, vaccinations on the outside protect those people inside – even if they are not vaccinated, “said Dr. Bronwen Garner, who specializes in Infectious Diseases at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. “It’s really about transmitting and disrupting a disease – and keeping the people who are prone to the disease in cocoons.”

Dr. Piedmont Healthcare’s Garner says the same idea works for any infectious disease – including the coronavirus. There is hope that the population can develop sufficiently high levels of immunity to keep the spread low.

“When you have enough people immune to a disease, the virus gets stuck and can’t find a person who is still susceptible to it. And if the virus can’t spread from person to person, the virus will essentially die out, ”said Dr. Garner.

But that won’t happen if parents don’t vaccinate their children.

You may be wondering if Georgia law requires students to be vaccinated before going to school? Yes and no.

Georgia children can be exempted because of medical or religious beliefs.

CBS 46 investigation pulled state records and found that in the 2011 school year, 629 kindergarten children in Georgia were not vaccinated because of the religious exception.

Flash forward to the 2019 school year, and that number rose to 1,068 kindergarten children who were not vaccinated due to the religious exception. That is an increase of 70 percent.

While the COVID vaccine is not mandatory in Georgia schools, this surge could anticipate some of the challenges ahead of us in administering the COVID vaccine in schools.

“What we are seeing are more frequent and longer-lasting outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in communities where vaccination practices are rarely used,” said Dr. Garner.

Meanwhile, a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 30 percent of parents will definitely not vaccinate their children, 33 percent will wait and see, 27 percent will vaccinate their children immediately, and 5 percent will only vaccinate their children when necessary.

CBS46 Investigates also asked the Georgia Department of Public Health about vaccination dates for students for the 2020 school year, but these were not complete.

“DPH usually tries to conduct audits for 100% of our schools. However, the 2020 reduction can be attributed to COVID, including school closings, virtual learning and limited local PH staff available to complete the audits due to the COVID response. Some districts failed to complete the audits, while others completed as many as possible. CDC took this into account and just asked states to complete as many as possible, ”said Nancy Nydam, communications director for the Georgia Department of Public Health.