US governor: I don’t want to vaccinate my child | Lauren Wolfe

Most parents who vaccinate their children have done so because they do it for reasons of medical necessity. It’s often their only option, as a childhood vaccine has to be given a set amount of time to work before they become harmful. Although government and business agencies periodically call for greater vaccinations, just because a vaccine is required by law, it doesn’t mean that it’s ever actually more popular. In Europe, children can be exempted from all vaccination requirements except for measles and mumps; in the US, it is still legal to refuse to vaccinate children, and some states even allow parents to opt out of vaccination for religious reasons. For a long time, vaccines prevented the majority of diseases. If the vaccine had never been developed, there would still be some disease epidemics, but we would still have an epidemic of vaccine hesitancy – and it would likely be triggered by more than just “philosophical objections”.

Another reason why parents opt out of vaccines is simply because they can, and because of the extensive religious freedoms in the US. They can choose against vaccines simply because they don’t agree with the message – not because they have scientific questions about their efficacy.

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This argument did not ring true to me as a doctor or a parent, however, when I spoke with a particular parents’ group from down South. The parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their position against vaccines was a clear-cut moral, philosophical, and religious argument. It didn’t relate to biological or logical arguments.

This family’s decision to opt out of vaccines seemed like an extreme example, and I read about other parent groups, including the Christian Medical Association, the Society for the Protection of Children (which is supported by medical groups) and some other societies within the Christian faith that all expressed significant support for parents’ rights. All of these groups were pushing for basic freedom, not any powerful piece of legislation that would have restricted parents’ rights to make decisions regarding their children, but many parents did end up lobbying against vaccines. The religious groups began to rally from the bottom up to lobby state legislators to remove exemptions for children under the age of 19 to various parts of the child abuse act, saying that the religious freedom of each community can be revoked if parents ignore science-based ideas.

Over the years, I have started to see very similar arguments in medical groups. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was very vocal in the fight to repeal vaccines for infants. The AAP published a series of articles and resource materials, and was very vocal that if parents were required to vaccinate their children against diseases that weren’t harmful to the child (that are proven beneficial to children under four years old), then there would be no public health purpose for vaccines. The AAP even supported boycotts of companies that provided important vaccines, such as Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C vaccinations. For parents, A1, B1, and even C2 were numbers in the vaccine order that had to be followed, but for the AAP, these were numbers in the order that could be adopted by parents as they saw fit.

As a doctor, I take many risks when I do physical examinations and disease panel screenings. Before any child receives a vaccine, the child is “mapped”. This maps what can be infected by the shot, the level of infection, and when a child is eligible for the shot. The mosquito-borne Zika virus infected countless children around the world, but it didn’t do any damage to them because their vaccine was given when the child was young enough to prevent exposure. Although the symptoms are scary, they are not dangerous. The best method for protecting infants is to vaccinate them against the disease.

If the state or government has the right to require these vaccines, then it has the right to mandate the boxes be ticked. If parents do not want to vaccinate their children because of a moral or philosophical reason, the government has no right to force them.

There’s a good chance that if you ask a typical adult about their right to opt out of vaccination requirements, they will say “since I’m already an adult I’m ok with it”. But I guarantee that many parents, especially the parents of babies and toddlers, will say, “You’re right. I feel more powerful when the decision is mine alone,” and state the rights that they feel are theirs.

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