Monday Memo — It’s past time for personal belief vaccine exemptions to be banned

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just released a new Policy Statement on “Immunization exemptions for child care and school attendance.” What’s the bottom line? The AAP emphatically says, “Nonmedical exemptions are not appropriate and are harmful to the community.”  I could not agree more.

As every physician knows, childhood immunizations prevent thousands of deaths, millions of serious illnesses, and billions of dollars in direct and societal costs each year.

Despite the obvious success of vaccines, some parents decline some or all vaccinations for their children, requesting nonmedical (personal belief) exemptions to comply with school or governmental requirements.

In fact, a recent survey published by the AAP found that “from 2006 to 2013 there was an increase in parental vaccine refusal, with more parents seeing vaccines as unnecessary and less being concerned about safety, adverse effects.”

Unfortunately, my home state, Colorado (along with 46 other states) allows for such nonmedical exemptions.

Now, without a doubt, there are true contraindications to some vaccinations, and such children require medical exemptions for school attendance, relying on the “herd” to protect them from vaccine preventable diseases.

But, the AAP, after reviewing the public health consequence of immunization exemptions as well as the legal and ethical considerations around nonmusical exemptions has finally issued a policy statement concluding that “refusal to vaccinate not only places the individual child at risk but also possibly the entire community, as a vaccinated herd is essential to prevent most vaccine-preventable diseases.”

In other words, nonmedical exemptions are potentially harmful to the child and to his or her community (day care, school, faith community, sports teams, etc.).

Now, if you don’t want to vaccinate your kid, that’s fine with me. But, you do NOT have the right to bring that unvaccinated child into places where other children play or study without the consent of those children’s parents. If you want to put your kid at risk, you have that right. But, you do not have the right to put my kids at risk with your decision.

In other words, the government, youth group organizers, camp directors, coaches, and faith communities should ALL consider protecting the majority of kids from the highly unhealthy (and I think selfish) decisions of a few parents that choose not to have their kids vaccinated.

It is appropriate, and urgent, that those who love and serve children protect the health of ALL kids from those whose choices about vaccines are putting the rest of our kids at risk.

If you choose not to vaccinate your child, fine. But then that child, who is now a potential danger to him or herself AND many others, shouldn’t have the right to be around and to endanger other children.

The AAP adds:

  • Immunization requirements are an extremely effective and safe way to protect both the individual child and the community.
  • The AAP supports laws that enforce certification of immunization for all children.
  • The AAP supports valid medical exemptions to specific immunizations when appropriate.
  • The AAP urges all states to enact laws to eliminate nonmedical exemptions from immunization requirements.

Personal belief exemptions that allow unvaccinated children to attend school, or faith community activities, or sports teams, or day care place both the child and his or her community at risk for outbreaks of communicable diseases and hinder the health of our children.

The AAP policy lays out a clear and convincing argument to eliminate such exemptions and supports all health professionals who care for children in their efforts to make sure all their patients are vaccinated.

The AAP now joins the American Medical Association in condemning nonmusical exemptions for vaccines. This is from a blog of mine in 2015:

The Huffington Post reports that the American Medical Association “says parents should not be able to refuse to have their kids vaccinated for personal or religious reasons.”

Forbes contributor Bruce Japsen writes, “The vote … by the AMA’s policy-making House of Delegates to seek more stringent state and federal immunization requirements comes at a critical time opponents of vaccination exemptions are successfully lobbying lawmakers in California and elsewhere for legislation to end non-medical exemptions from vaccination.”

The association “said there is no scientific basis for non-medical exemptions and that they put the public’s health at risk.”

Dr. Patrice Harris, an AMA board member, said, “Protecting community health in today’s mobile society requires that policymakers not permit individuals from opting out of immunization solely as a matter of personal preference or convenience.”

See some of my other blogs on this topic:

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