Who should decide whether children get vaccinated - their parents or the state?
Why would someone refuse a vaccination?
Actually, maybe we should ask “Why wouldn’t somebody refuse a vaccination?” They may be unpleasant. They cost money. Oftentimes, they involve needles. Other popular but unfounded reasons: There’s “no evidence that they work” or they reportedly have “toxic side effects.”
Doctors and medical experts across the country overwhelmingly recommend that people get vaccinated for communicable diseases like the measles, whooping cough and the flu. But that’s the most doctors can do – recommend. For adults, getting vaccinated is a personal decision. The only time vaccinations are required is if someone is traveling abroad.
But how about for children and infants?
They are required to get a certain battery of vaccinations before being allowed to enroll in the public school system, but all states have what are known as exemption laws. In all states, children can be exempted if a vaccination would cause allergic or adverse reactions. Parents can opt to refuse a vaccination for their children on religious grounds in 48 states – and proponents say the right of refusal is protected by the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Less common are exemptions based on personal belief – refusing vaccinations because you don’t want your kids to get them. Only 20 states allow them, and a state legislator this winter introduced a bill that would have included New Jersey. But the bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, was shot down this month at a hearing by the Health and Senior Services Committee. Assemblyman Herb Conway, who chairs the committee, called it “a recipe for disaster.”
According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Vandervalk introduced the bill in response to a national debate over whether parents can decide if their children get vaccinated. In some cases, parents might regard vaccines with suspicion and wish to refuse them. A study in the 1990s claimed that certain vaccines caused autism in children – and even though the study has since been debunked, some still regard it as a legitimate fear. In other cases, they may just look for more control over how often a child is vaccinated.
Vandervalk told the Star-Ledger that babies are given 35 doses of vaccines by the time they reach 15 months of age. “That’s a heavy burden on a little baby,” she said “And if parents want to space it out a little bit, there’s no other procedure that we mandate. You’re putting toxic substances into a child’s body.”
But easing vaccination requirements could have dire effects. The state of California used to have looser laws regarding vaccination. But last fall, a whooping cough outbreak caused the deaths of 10 infants. The state responded by passing a law this January that requires all students to be vaccinated for the disease. Medical experts think more outbreaks may happen if more exemptions are allowed.
Dean Blumberg, a California pediatrician interviewed by the Star-Ledger, said that “areas where there was a high number of personal belief exemptions were hardest hit.” Blumberg believes the ability of parents to refuse vaccines correlates with the spread of disease.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes a strong stance in favor of vaccination. On a section of its Web page dealing with exemptions to vaccinations, it says, “Given the increasing number of states allowing philosophical exemptions to vaccines, at some point we are going to be forced to decide whether it is our inalienable right to catch and transmit potentially fatal infections.”
What do you think?
Who should decide whether children get vaccinated – their parents or the state? Should the government be involved in decisions over whether children get vaccinated? Should parents be allowed to refuse vaccines, even if it puts their child and other children at risk? Join the discussion!
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