There is no "right" to refuse vaccination for your child

There is no "right" to refuse vaccination for your child

The National Vaccine Information Center is a faux vaccine information organization. In reality, NVIC is anti-vaccination.  We bloggers at Science-Based Medicine have followed David Gorski's lead in calling it the National Vaccine (Mis)information Center, a name that more truly reflects its purpose.  

NVIC has been deprived of its favorite vaccination boogey man, the fake autism-vaccination connection.  That lie has been so thoroughly discredited that even NVIC doens't make it the centerpiece of its misinformation campaign anymore.  Rather, it has moved on to "informed consent."  Or, as Dr. Gorski has aptly named the NVIC's version of informed consent, "misinformed consent." 

The NVIC is all about parents making informed choices before vaccinating their children. But by the time parents wade through NVIC's website, they will be so misinformed that they may well reject some or all vaccines. NVIC emphasizes the risks that childhood vaccinations present , even though the risk-benefit analysis of vaccination comes out overwhelmingly in favor of vaccinating.  They underplay the seriousness of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases and focus on the limited effectiveness of some vaccines.  NVIC especially loves the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.  VAERS is a government program that collects information about adverse reactions to vaccinations in order to improve vaccine safety, an admirable objective.  It urges anyone to report any clinically significant medical event following vaccination even if you are not sure that it was caused by vaccination.  Of course, this inflates the numbers by including events that have absolutely nothing to do with vaccination other than that they occurred after the vaccination took place.  

Naturally, after NVIC's cherry-picked information has influenced parents against vaccination, parents can take advantage of a state's non-medical exemptions based on their religious beliefs, in all but two states, or their "philosophical" beliefs,  in 21 states.  (All states have medical exemptions as well. Needless to say, those are not controversial.) Even in states with only religious belief exemptions it is easy to avoid inoculating one's children because the government's inquiring into the sincerity of a person's religious beliefs is constitutionally dicey.  The only thing a philosophical belief exemption adds is freeing parents who lie about their religious beliefs from a twinge of guilt for being deceitful.

And what are these religions that oppose vaccination?  Well, basically, almost none.  Even Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses get vaccinated.  Only small fringe groups actually have religious beliefs that would apply.  If philosophical beliefs were eliminated, and the religious belief exemptions applied only to members of sects who actually oppose vaccination, the number of unvaccinated children would shrink dramatically. 

Why, then, do we have these exemptions?  Do parents have a "right" to refuse to vaccinate their children?  No, they don't.  Here's what the U.S. Supreme Court said about that issue, way back in 1944, in a case named Prince v. Massachusetts:

The family itself is not beyond regulation in the public interest, as against a claim of religious liberty. And neither rights of religion nor rights of parenthood are beyond limitation. Acting to guard the general interest in youth’s well being, the state as parens patriae may restrict the parents’ control by requiring school attendance, regulating or prohibiting the child’s labor, and in many other ways. Its authority is not nullified merely because the parent grounds his claim to control the child’s course of conduct on religion or conscience. Thus, he cannot claim freedom from compulsory vaccination for the child more than for himself on religious grounds. The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.

Exemptions are solely the work of state legislatures.  They enacted exemptions to the vaccination requirements for public school children and those attending state-licensed day care.  In my state (Florida), the requirements apply to private schools as well, although that is not true in all states.  Only North Carolina requires home-schooled children to be vaccinated (as of 2010).  There have been a number of calls to repeal all non-medical exemptions and, more successfully, to require education of parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated. 

Unfortunately, we can't stop organizations like the NVIC from spreading anti-vaccination propaganda. It would be nice if we could. Without the corrupting effect of anti-vaccinationists scaring the wits out of them, most parents would have little problem when the real risks and benefits were presented in a calm and non-inflammatory manner.  But we could render NVIC and its ilk toothless by doing away with non-medical exemptions.  Then NVIC could talk about "informed consent" all day long.  But it wouldn't do the gullible parents who believe NVIC's misinformation any good. Parents would still have the right to informed consent, just before the children were vaccinated.  Their children would be better for it, as would we all.

Points of Interest: 04/21/2014
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