Kids, Schools, and Shots! Oh My!

In my inbox recently:

Dear Parent or Guardian of (Name),

If your child will be entering 6th or 10th grade this fall, please listen to the following message: All 6th and 10th graders must have received one dose of the Tdap vaccine before they begin school in August. The Tdap vaccine protects against Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (whooping cough). To avoid any missed school, contact your health care provider today to schedule an appointment before school begins. If your child has already received one dose of this vaccine, please disregard this message. Thank you for helping to keep your child’s school healthy.

You’ve probably gotten this or something like it. Many parents read it and rush off to the pediatrician to make sure their kids have been vaccinated because they think someone will meet them at the schoolhouse door and block their germy unvaccinated kids from getting in. The message to moms and dads is that they have no choice in the matter. But do they?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

When the Government Has a Say

There are two main areas where the government gets actively involved in meddling with an otherwise functioning and health family—education and vaccination. Federal, state and local governments all have laws and regulations about these two aspects of every child’s life. At the local level, these are affirmative laws, meaning that something is required of the family to satisfy a state’s interest in those children.

In the case of education, all children must receive a basic education through 12th grade. The reason for this is to reduce the burden on the country’s budget in having to care for the kids who are unable to fend for themselves as adults. I’ll save the debate of rightness or wrongness for another post as I’ve plenty to say on that too.

The other is vaccination.

The Story of Mandatory Vaccination

In 1905, when vaccines first became widely used, the Supreme Court ruled that the state could force parents to make their children submit to small pox vaccine[i].

But that ruling hasn’t been challenged since and for good reason. No one wants a ruling on whether that’s still good law because the rationale for the Jacobson decision has begun to fade due to the growing understanding that vaccines themselves pose a risk to children and that parents have a right to refuse treatment on behalf of their children.[ii]

Because the safety and efficacy of vaccinations are far from conclusive, a ruling overturning the Jacobson decision could endanger the CDC’s “mandatory” vaccine schedule. More and more parents might then opt out of vaccines if they knew more of the potential dangers and if it weren’t such a social stigma to be unvaccinated.

Vaccine manufacturers “immunized” against lawsuits

Vaccines had such a high rate of reactivity that Congress “immunized” vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits even for their own negligence in developing, testing, and making vaccines. Before this immunity, the pharmaceutical industry had begun to shy away from developing new vaccines because it’s impossible to make one that doesn’t cause injury. Their exposure to suit slowed research and development for new vaccines to a crawl.

Attempting to rescue the industry because of fears our population would be at grave risk without mass vaccination, Congress prohibited lawsuits for vaccine injuries. Forever.

No other industry in the world enjoys this kind of immunity. None. And with it, manufacturers have come flooding through the CDC’s doors insisting that must be vaccinated against all kinds of childhood illnesses that are both mild and catastrophic.

Consequently, through the miracle of modern “agency capture,” the CDC and FDA have become strongholds of the pharmaceutical industry. Thus, the people who stand to profit by mandatory vaccination are often those that set the policy behind it.

Current Vaccine Regulations

Today, our children are subjected to at least 39 shots before their twelfth birthday[iii], some containing multiple diseases and strains, genetically engineered viruses, DNA and prions from humans and other species, and questionable chemicals such as aluminum and mercury. There are a great many resources on the benefits and potential risks of vaccinations and I won’t go into them in depth here. See the endnotes for more information.

When Congress granted immunity for pharmaceutical companies who developed vaccines, it also created a system to record adverse events and to compensate victims through a tax on the vaccinations themselves. This system is called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

As of June 9, 2010, over 11,000 adverse reactions had been reported through VAERS by parents and healthcare professionals for this year alone. But the system is deeply flawed both because of over-reporting and underreporting concerns as well as a total lack of tracking of what vaccines are linked to the reported effect.

For instance, parents may not know when their child is reacting to a shot because they’re infants and can’t tell what they’re feeling. Reactions can be delayed, mild, or long term and impossible to trace to the vaccine. Furthermore, diseases like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disorders among many others have been linked, both statistically and anecdotally to shots, but aren’t reported at all on this system.

Parents who know that their child has been injured and make a claim for reimbursements (up to $250,000) are often drowned in a sea of paperwork and experience difficulty proving the link between the vaccine and the reaction, thus delaying or negating payment.

Policy Under Fire

Many medical professionals and organizations have sounded a warning bell that vaccines may not be as safe as we’re led to believe and should be used more judiciously than is currently the recommended practice according to the Centers for Disease Control schedules. Doctors like Jay Gordon and Robert Sears have spoken out against an unmeasured approach to shooting our kids. Even the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons opposes mandatory, forced vaccination and instead advocate for voluntary vaccination based informed consent and sound scientific data.

More parents are not vaccinating or are vaccinating according to an alternate schedule or are demanding vaccines with fewer or no chemicals or biological ingredients. In the medical setting, three New York nurses fought the state health commissioner’s mandatory H1N1 vaccine, and won an injunction against mandatory vaccines. Shortly after, the health commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines, halted the mandatory schedule citing shortages of vaccine. But controversy remains about his mandate amid speculation that Dr. Daines may have been personally connected to vaccine manufacturers.

There are growing numbers of anti-vaccination advocacy groups and more public outcry over children and healthcare workers being forced to allow the invasion of the sanctity of their bodies in deference to herd immunity and public safety. Common to all of these groups is a demand for more information.

In a perfect world, the market economy would squeeze out those vaccines that are dangerous or questionable. But this is not a perfect world and parents do not have access to all the information they need. Market forces do not work in this setting in part because the disincentives to make a substandard product are not functioning in vaccine manufacturing.

First, information is not readily available; the consumer is not necessarily the decision-maker about what product is to be used nor is the consumer informed about the ingredients in or statistical probabilities of adverse reactions. Second, the seller/manufacturer is not at risk for products liability litigation; and, last, public policy is determined by interested parties—meaning that policy wonks who issue vaccination schedules are often former executives of manufacturers or stand to gain by mandatory vaccination in some way, however remote. All of these factors make the vaccine market a decidedly un-Capitalistic system.

Vaccines and Schools

The question remains, if rational adults can refuse treatment, and parents can refuse treatment for their kids as long as it isn’t life-threatening, how can school systems continue to “force” parents to vaccinate?

The answer is that they may not be able to force parents to force their kids submit to an invasion of their body. That could be tantamount to battery. No school system, state government, or federal agency wants to test the constitutionality of mandatory vaccines in court because they might lose. A loss of that magnitude could permanently damage the pharmaceutical industry and the CDC’s hold on the parental mind.

Rather than face this legal issue head on, each state’s legislature has carved out certain exceptions to mandatory vaccination that almost any parent can raise if they chose—either religious or philosophical.

Virginia, the holdout, however, has one of the most interesting mandatory vaccination laws on the books. Not too long ago, the DA of Prince George County public schools rounded up parents with their unvaccinated children and forced them to make their children submit to vaccines on pain of imprisonment and fines.

Well, it worked, and no civil rights lawyers were on hand to fight for the parents’ rights to object. Why? Because there’s still a pervasive belief that vaccines are generally safe, that kids who don’t have them are a danger to society, and that parents who refuse to vaccinate are merely neglectful.

But the reality is different.

It’s Time to Face Reality

We know that vaccines aren’t perfectly safe or perfectly effective.[iv] [v] [vi]

If you ask any pediatrician to tell you the hard truth about the number of shots we give kids and the potential for adverse effects of demanding massive immune responses from newborns and children, very few will tell you it’s perfectly safe. Because no one knows if it is or isn’t. Some doctors will say they prefer to space shots out over time, one at a time, in a methodical, measured way, watching for reactions, mindful of the demand on the immune system that shots pose.

But others tow the party line and insist on adherence to the “mandatory” schedule. Some pediatricians will even refuse to serve parents who do not vaccinate.

Between the extreme pressure from society, pediatricians, and the education system, is there room for parents to question the wisdom of invading their children’s bodies with foreign substances and potentially dangerous chemicals?

What’s a Parent To Do?

You’re a parent that doesn’t want to or hasn’t fully vaccinated your child. What are your options?

First, every state has a different approach and you should find out what the regulations are in your state. Visit www.vaccinesafety.edu (by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Vaccine Safety) to find out specifically what laws and regulations apply to you.

Some states allow parents an exemption either for religious or philosophical reasons. Often, the statute won’t say what that means and leaves it to the parents to simply sign the release that the school will have on hand for this exemption. Just ask for it. Usually, it’s not a problem and you just have to agree that if there’s an outbreak of a disease your child isn’t vaccinated against, you have to keep them out of school until further notice.

Some states require that parents prove that their exemption is for religious reasons and will want proof of your “sincere belief” that vaccines are against your religion. In that case, you may have to sign an affidavit that you’re affiliated with a known religion that espouses a belief in not invading the body with a foreign substance like a vaccine.

As an attorney, my hope is that someone will challenge the requirement of affiliation with a known religion because would force people who practice their spirituality in their own or in multiple traditions to affiliate themselves with some church or sect in order to vindicate their conviction that vaccines are bad for them. This is an infringement on freedom of (which is also freedom from) religion, a First Amendment protection.

Forcing parents to sign a waiver saying that they don’t believe in vaccination legitimizes mandatory vaccination under threat of criminal or civil penalty. For parents who do not believe that the state has a right to force them to vaccinate their children, it feels like giving in. And it is.

Instead, parents could write letters to state legislators referencing this blog and all of the links and reference materials in it. Or they could write to the ACLU and ask the fine attorneys there to take up the banner for freedom to choose. Or they could use the Ghandi method of civil disobedience and refuse either to vaccinate or sign the waiver. If are a parent who chooses to do that, be prepared for a fight. You may just get one, especially if you live in Virginia.

For my part, I don’t have the time right now to fight it. I simply sign the waiver and move along. Neither of my children is fully vaccinated according to the schedule. My younger son only received one round of shots before he had a reaction and we stopped vaccinating him altogether.

Now, my ex-husband and I have a difference of opinion on yearly flu vaccines. Our oldest son has asthma. The flu, for him, is very difficult and dangerous. For our younger son, who has no respiratory issues, the shot itself could be more dangerous. Each year, we have to decide whether to vaccinate or not. Last year, my son had H1N1 when it hit Colorado early in the fall, well before the vaccine came out.  It set him on his keister for over a month. He missed two weeks of school and didn’t feel right for a long time. He might well have ended up in the hospital. For him, the vaccine, with its risks, might make more sense–especially since we cannot agree on dietary or holistic methods of healthcare. But for the other child, who reacts to shots and who has a strong, uncompromised immune system, it only makes sense to vaccinate him as a way to protect his brother.

I do not get the flu shot anymore, knowing what I now know about the mercury content and other questionable ingredients in most of them. But it’s a struggle convincing my ex-husband that the risk of not vaccinating our older child is worth it. Because I don’t know that it is. I do know that I’m glad I didn’t have to face the choice of giving him the H1N1 shot and that he’ll likely have very strong immunity to it this year and whatever mutations come of it in the future because he battled the virus itself and won.

Each parent has to make the best decision they can for their child with the information we have at our disposal. Unfortunately, we’re making vaccination decisions in an information vacuum. That has to stop. We need more and better data; more and better transparency from our healthcare leaders; more and better policy unsullied by profit. Until then, it’s anyone’s guess what to do.

[i] Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 1 (1905).

[ii] Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (1979).

[iii] Sears, Robert, MD. The Vaccine Book. Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Pp. 236-237.

[iv] Cave, Stephanie MD, FAAFP, and Mitchell, Deborah. What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Vaccines. Wellness Central, Hatchett Book Group, New York, New York, 2001.

[v] http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/flu-vaccination-ban-goes-national-after-fever-convulsions-in-children-20100423-tglp.html?from=age_ft

[vi] Sears, Robert, MD. The Vaccine Book. Little, Brown and Company, 2007.

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