Opinion: Vaccinations – Let parents make the choice

Original article posted HERE


Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Charlotte Vandervalk, R-Westwood, is an assemblywoman representing District 39.
Send comments about this article to Peter Grad, Op-Ed Page editor, at grad@northjersey.com

THE YOUNG DAUGHTER of the woman calling my office had been given her shots for school, had a reaction, and then spent months in the hospital recovering from paralysis. Now, her son was to get the same shots or he wouldn’t be allowed in school.

Despite the family history, the son couldn’t get a medical exemption because New Jersey’s law is extremely narrow. The son was terrified. The mother was traumatized and angry that the state was giving her no options. The family was still recovering financially from the daughter’s hospitalization and didn’t want to risk having the same thing happen to their son.

We know that some children have adverse reactions to vaccines. We just don’t know why. Acknowledging the inherent risk, the federal government established a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and has awarded more than $2 billion dollars in claims since 1990.

No one knows how many other children were injured by vaccines and did not submit claims to the NVICP program.

New Jersey mandates more vaccinations than any other state in the United States — 60 doses of vaccine by the age of 6 — and allows for only two types of exemptions, medical and religious.

Physician overruled

Parents of a child whom I personally know submitted a hand-written letter from their physician, extensively detailing the risks that vaccines posed for their child and recommending a medical exemption be granted. The physician was overruled by the local Board of Health.

Many such medical-exemption requests are similarly thrown out.

New Jersey allows a religious exemption, but, if granted, then the child receives no vaccines at all. Many parents accept vaccines, but would like to choose which vaccines, and when they will be administered. They might feel that their newborn should not be vaccinated in the hospital for Hepatitis B because the infant is not in danger of that disease at that age, which is transmitted by sexual contact or dirty needles.

Some parents feel that the required schedule for vaccines — 35 doses by the age of 15 months — is too much.

They would like to space vaccinations further apart.

Yet, the response of some legislators has been to seek restrictions on the religious exemption. They want to require parents to explain just how vaccinations conflict with their religious beliefs.

riskBut who makes the value judgment as to whether or not those reasons are sound? Those who seek to are treading on dangerous ground striking at our constitutional right of religious freedom.

Only a conscientious exemption from our vaccine laws allows for a humane response to these situations, but New Jersey does not permit that.

18 states offer exemptions

There are 18 states that provide for a conscientious or philosophical exemption from mandated vaccines. There are no greater outbreaks of disease in those states than in any other state. Even California and Texas, with their highly mobile populations, allow this type of exemption.

New Jersey should allow conscientious exemptions from mandatory immunizations as called for in my Assembly bill 2450. Only in this way can the state protect the majority without violating the rights of this minority until more is known about the underlying conditions that define this minority group.

Until such time as science discovers what makes these children more at risk than others, their parents should be allowed the right to protect their children through a conscientious objection.