September 9, 2012
A Deadly Choice
What if I told you that it was possible for your child to contract a disease that they have been immunized for because of another person's beliefs? Hundreds of thousands of children are entering schools this fall without protection from deadly diseases. More parents are deciding not to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, and other dangerous diseases. According to a case report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC ) in August 2011, a fifteen year old unvaccinated child and his family who had unknowingly contracted measles while in Malaysia boarded a plane headed for California. There were 97 contacts with people made by this child and out of those 3 were infected including a 19 month old child. 79 more contacts were made from the 19 month old exposing 176 persons in all. One vaccination could have prevented this. Out of about 4 million new students entering school this year there are at least 135,000 kindergarteners who were exempt from "required" vaccinations. In some states, 1 in 10 did not get vaccinated (Bowman, 2008). Those are staggering numbers. Think of your child's class of about 20 to 30 students. Statistics show that there are at least 2 to 3 unimmunized children in your child's classroom. Saad Omer, an assistant professor at Emory University's School of Public Health in Atlanta, along with several other leading vaccine researchers stated that in states where vaccine exemptions are high the rate of whooping cough or pertussis are 50% higher than other states. In combination with the 1 in 10 statistic, the rates become ridiculous. Due to these high exposure rates parents who make the choice not to protect their children against deadly diseased do not have the right to enter those children into public schools.
On February 17, 2009, NBC Nightly News reported a story of a group of children who had contracted meningitis in Minnesota. One of those children died. On May 10, 2008 an outbreak of whooping cough occurred at a school in California. As a result officials closed the school until the epidemic subsided (Offit, 2011). Numerous outbreaks have occurred since then infecting school age children in all too many cases. 131 people were infected with an outbreak of measles in August of 2008. (Bowman, 2008) Why then, do we ask ourselves, are our children getting sick from diseases that vaccines are made to prevent? The unfortunate answer is that these disease outbreaks are on the rise due in part to parents choosing not to have their children immunized. It is their right.
The debate over whether or not to immunize a child, has been a cause for concern for parents ever since immunizations hit the scene in the mid -20th century. In 1973, a doctor and philosopher of medicine by the name of John Wilson, made a claim to the Royal Society of Medicine in London that he believed the pertussis vaccine caused brain damage in children. From 1956 to 2011 countless studies on adverse effects have been conducted. "During that time epidemiological studies had clearly shown that [vaccines] didn't cause brain damage or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and advances in neurology and genetics had better defined the real causes of the problems (Offit, 2011)." All related research since 1973 has proven that immunizations are as safe and effective as they can be and that there is no direct correlation to the previous injury accusations that cost us millions of tax payer dollars. Still the scare frightened parents who were looking out for the best interest of their children. The 1973 theory caused a lot of scared parents for file claims in court.
During the time following Dr. Wilson's claim, case after case of parents claiming that an immunization had left their child paralyzed, mentally retarded or struck with autism claimed the attention of the courts. Millions were awarded in damages and pharmaceutical companies were closing down shop because of the loss of faith in immunizations. Throughout the next ten years or so the vaccine industry suffered insurmountable loss and it became clear to the US government that something had to be done. The result was the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act and subsequently the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System or VAERS. This reporting system is still in use by the Center for Disease Control or the CDC today (Offit, 2011). Vaccine safety is monitored by these systems. The results from this monitoring has been ongoing since then and is public information on the CDC's website.
Since the use of these safety resources and the use of modern medicine, health officials and researchers began to mandate that all children be immunized before entering school. In 1980 a bumper sticker was displayed saying "It's the law: No Shots-No School" put in place by South Carolina's public health officials. Parents since the nineteenth century up until now see vaccination as impure, unsafe and an act against nature and God taking their beliefs to the upper courts. Cases were heard and won for a parent's constitutional right to choose. It started with religious exemptions as in the case of Prince vs. Massachusetts in January 1944. Then state officials lobbied toward philosophical exemptions. Each exemption building on the case of another.
Today each state has their own legislature allowing exemptions from immunizations for parents. In some states the simple signing of a waiver is enough to exempt a child. It's their right says our government. But what are we giving them a right to do? Cause an epidemic? But since our government says that forcing immunizations is unconstitutional, the question is not whether these parents have the right to choose to immunize their children it is whether or not their unimmunized children should be allowed to go to public schools with our children and put them at risk.
If a child whose parents did not believe in immunizations brought measles to school, a vaccinated child may be protected from the disease. However, what about the child who may not have responded to the vaccination, or the child whose immune system is too weak to be vaccinated? What if my child is between the first and second shots? The second shot is meant to boost or make sure that the immune system creates enough antibodies to fight of a full fledge measles infection. Your child or my child may be at risk (AAP, 2006). Isn't this why we chose to hear our children cry in the doctor's office, to have slight fevers and local discomfort so that we wouldn't end up with a severely sick child with a potentially deadly disease later on?
"First and foremost is modern medicine. The medical world has very little to offer in the treatment of infectious disease. This importance in the face of illness leads to a strong desire to prevent these untreatable problems, even at a high cost in the form of adverse effects. Viruses and whooping cough are not responsive to antibiotics. That covers measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox, hepatitis and pertussis. But more and more bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. That threatens the effectiveness of the few drugs that treat the remaining microbes in question, Haemophilus, diphtheria, and tetanus (Neustaegter, 2002)."
In December 2011, the Public Health Council of New jersey moved a 5 to 2 vote for a bill requiring that all children who attend or will attend preschool or a licensed child care facility receive annual flu shots. The bill also required those same children to receive an additional three vaccines. In addition, sixth graders were to receive a meningitis shoot and a whooping cough booster. New Jersey was the first state to set a mandate for immunization in such a manner according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AP, 2007). The only thing stopping immunizations for all children is the fact that our states don't require them. They only recommend them. By requiring parents to immunize we are protecting them and the general population as a whole. Too many exemptions are in play because of religion, philosophy or even personal preference. None of these exemptions are based on the life saving statistics that have been proven over and over again. The American Academy of Pediatrics specifically states that "immunizations are among the most effective medical interventions of all time. short of basic sanitation and nutrition, no medical intervention has done more to save lives and prevent disease than immunizations (AAP, 2006). "Each state has the right to mandate their own legislation for immunization requirements and each state should do so. "Implementation of these rules will save lives and prevent disease and suffering in children, their families and the community," says Deputy Health Commissioner, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, of New Jersey.
Just like any other disease or health care problem it costs the health care industry to treat preventable diseases. Immunizations can reduce this cost in turn saving parents on health care expenses. It is equivocal to investing in a college fund for your child. The earlier you start the more you save. Our American children have an opportunity to a fre and appropriate education that some countries don't offer. Therefore, it is imperative to protect them and enable them to take full advantage of their education.
Illness can prevent our children from taking advantage of their free education. Illness is the number one reason for student absences from reported by school officials (Offit, 2011). Serious preventable disease like cancer and genetic disorders are already taking a percentage of our children away from school. However, measles, mumps, and rubella can be prevented saving children from unwarranted absences that affect their full potential as students. Protecting our children from this should be a priority for every parent.
it is a parent's responsibility to protect our children from anything that is preventable. Whether it is a child predator, a bully or other children who are unprotected against deadly diseases. Some parents argue that if a child is immunized then they don't have to worry about becoming infected. They say that their children are not putting ours at risk. But when sporadic outbreaks occur in the United States, according to the CDC, they are typically linked to imported cased from countries where they remain an endemic (CDC, 2011). Why take the risk?
Why not some may argue. It is their right as stated before. No one or any institution has the right to force a parent to subject their child to needles and deactivated bacteria. This is the argument that most opposing parents give. They believe that it is immoral. Some even believe that it is a sin to inject the body with any outside substances (Neustaedter, 2002). It is against their religion and their belief system. Now we are faced with a dilemma. Does their belief system constitute the greater good of society as a whole? Some religious people do not believe in receiving blood transfusions. They have the right to refuse this medical treatment. This is not debated because their refusal has nothing to do with the greater good of the community as a whole. It is local, single, and does not affect the person sitting next to them in a classroom. There is a difference between beliefs that do not affect others and ones that do.
Any belief that affects the general population has its political horror stories. It can become a political nightmare because individuals have the right to free choice. If laws are passed like the precedent in New Jersey then parents are forced against what they see as their judgment call on immunizing their children. However, public schools and public childcare centers are not the only educational options there are. Homeschooling, private schools and charter schools are on the rise as alternative educational options for parents. These options are readily available to parents who choose them. If the mandates for entrance to public school requires your child to be immunized and you are not willing to accept those requirements then choose another available option.
There are enough germs in and on food, on door knobs, toys and other children to infect our children with colds and other simple illnesses. We are already in a battle against asthma, juvenile diabetes, severe allergies and the sort. Exposing our children to the risk of serious and deadly preventable diseases is just too much to ask for. The risk associated with immunization is minimal in comparison with the adverse effects of contracting one. Parents who choose not to have their children immunized are putting our children, our parents and the community as a whole at risk. Separation is an option, but compliance is better one. Encourage parents who are in doubt to immunize their children. Ask your local schools, administrations and PTA organizations about establishing and education program to inform parents about the benefits of having their children immunized and the risks of not doing so. It could save your child's life.
Associated Press. (2007). New Jersey requires flu shots. Retrieved August 18, 2012, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22190084. Bowman, Lee. (2008). Thousands of unvaccinated children enter schools. (Scripps Howard News Service). Retrieved July 30, 2012, from http://www.scrippsnews.com Moskowitz, Richard. (2011). Unvaccinated children. Childbirth Solutions. Retrieved on August 18, 2012, from http://childbirthsolutions.com/articles/unvaccinated-children/. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Immunization Branch. (2012). North Carolina immunization exemptions. Retrieved August 21, 2012, from
Neustaedter, Randall. (2002). The vaccine guide: Risks and benefits for children and adults. Berkley: North Atlantic Books. Offit, Paul A. (2011). How the anti-vaccine movement threatens us all. New York: Basic Books. U.S. Congress. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006).Immunizations and infectious diseases: An informed parent's guide. In M. Fisher (Ed.) Washington, DC:U.S. Government Printing office. Yeager, Selene. (1998). The doctor's book of food remedies. (M. Hoffman, E. Claflin, S. Sanders, & J. Sherman). Rodale, Inc. Holtzbrinck Publishers.