The moral and ethical questions surrounding vaccinations are not always clear-cut. Supporters maintain they are safe and effective. Opponents counter that research is suspect because of a corrupted money-centered process. The debate has left the public pondering a host of questions:
Should parents have the right to opt out? Should all children face reaction risks to protect those who can’t or won’t? What medical conditions merit a vaccination exemption? Is there a point when public safety should trump deeply held religious beliefs? Is it fair that some parents allow others to risk their children’s health so they don’t have to?
“The CCA does not feel that any one child is more important than another child,” said Dr. Brian A. Stenzler, president of the California Chiropractic Association.
Stenzler said he believes the vaccination issue has stirred up visceral emotions because of three key factors: forced participation that squelches the basic medical tenet of informed consent; a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has deemed vaccinations to be “unavoidably unsafe”; and parents left to bear all of the risks associated with vaccines since the drugs’ manufacturers and health care providers are immune from liability.
But Dr. Wayne True, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, believes so strongly in their effectiveness that he won’t treat families who don’t vaccinate.
“Parents always have a right to not immunize,” the La Mesa doctor said. “But I won’t care for their children any more, and don’t want their kids in public schools to put others at risk. I could not bear to watch a child die from an illness that could have been prevented by a simple immunization.”
The right to not immunize, however, is in jeopardy in California with the introduction of Senate Bill 227, a proposed law that would remove personal belief—including religion—as an acceptable exception to the state’s immunization requirement. If it passes, the only acceptable waiver would be for certain medical conditions.
Although the California Chiropractic Association does not take an official position on the use of vaccinations, it has weighed in on SB 277.
“The real issue related to mandatory vaccination policy is that of parental choice,” Stenzler said. “Should a parent have a say in what pharmaceutical products get injected into their child’s body?
“We believe that regardless of one’s position on vaccination, a parent should have the right to choose what is in the best interest of his or her child based on his or her religious or personal beliefs.”
Stenzler points to a California mom who is fighting desperately to block the bill after her son developed severe reactions to his immunizations because of a compromised immune system he inherited from his mother. The family has spent three years and thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses trying to detox his body from the shots. His younger sister has been tested and has the same immune issues. Unless her children have cancer they are unlikely to qualify for the hard-to-get medical exemption.
“The authors claim this bill is intended to protect those who cannot be vaccinated,” she told Stenzler in a letter. “The reality is that this bill is forcing vaccines on those they claim to want to protect.”
Stenzler said he is also concerned that the mandatory vaccination bill is open-ended.
“The California Department of Health would be permitted to add vaccines to this schedule at any time, without limit, and without public input,” he cautioned.
Impact on homeschoolers
Also concerned is the homeschool community, which could be significantly impacted by the law change since most families supplement their private instruction with programs included under the new provisions.
“If SB 277 passes as written, there will be no non-medically based exemptions for mandatory immunization of school-aged children (ages 6 and up) in California at all, homeschoolers included, other than those using the private tutoring option,” said an opinion by Caitlyn Obolsky, an attorney with the HomeSchool Association of California. “This option requires that the parent hold a current California multiple-subject teaching credential and has various other restrictions.”
Physician True, however, said it is vital that enough children are immunized in order to prevent a widespread outbreak, a concept known as herd immunity. Experts warn that geographical pockets with lower immunization rates put entire communities at serious risk.
“The risk of exposure remains high as long as we have open borders, and families who choose not to immunize,” True said. “Herd immunity only works if all get immunized. We rely on herd immunity to help protect the very few who cannot respond to the immunization, have true allergy to it, etc. We should not rely on herd immunity for those who simply choose not to be immunized.”