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Sticking It to Us

Being a parent tends to make you opinionated about all things to do with parenting. Even setting aside few key issues where the norm is demonstrably harmful (more on one of those next time), itís hard not to form a pretty clear attachment to whatever decisions youíve made and then cluck quietly to yourself things like ďIf they just carried her in a sling instead of a car seat . . .Ē Since I aspire not to be an arrogant priss, however, I do ongoing battle with these urges.

With vaccination, though, itís easy. After wading into the treacherous and contested waters surrounding the vaccine debates, there is only one thing I can say with absolute certainty: I canít imagine a parental choice about vaccination that I would question. There are too many uncertainties, and too many risks and tradeoffs to be considered.

Which is why Iím troubled by the appearance of New York Assembly bill A10942, a bill that would expand the current nine vaccinations that are mandatory for children entering grades K through 12 (and two others for preschool) and make all 18 vaccinations recommended by the CDC mandatory, and mandatory on their schedule (a total of well over 40 shots if you count yearly flu shots). This makes vaccinations mandatory for infants and toddlers for the first time, affecting parents who chose to delay but not skip shots.

This is an incredibly huge shift away from personal and parental choice in medical care, and I think itís a dangerous one.

Now, let it be said that making public health policy in general is tricky business, and does necessarily involve impinging on the few for the benefit of the many: individuals with a highly contagious disease need to be quarantined. Farmers with tomatoes suspected of being contaminated with salmonella lose a yearís worth of work.

And it is true that vaccinations work best at preventing outbreaks of disease when they are administered to a very large portion of the population, conferring what is called ďherd immunity.Ē So I understand the public health goal of wanting to increase the percentage of children getting them.

If we could somehow know they were universally safe, or even if their only risk were the very rare serious allergic reactions that vaccine makers do acknowledge, there might be an argument for making them mandatory.

However, the science and the safety is murky. While some of the most high-profile claims of links to autism have been thrown into serious doubt and the mercury has been removed from New York stateís vaccines, there are plenty of remaining concerns: A child getting all the vaccines on schedule receives levels of aluminum several times the level that would be toxic if it hit the bloodstream all at once, and there are no studies about how quickly it disperses into a childís blood after an injection. Adverse reactions are underreported and not counted if they show up after 48 hours. We know very little about the synergistic effects of doubling the number of vaccines kids are getting and combining some into seven-vaccine shots. Some health care providers have argued that inability to fully fight off a live vaccine can cause chronic subclinical problems that show up in our increasing levels of auto-immune disorders. Making the schedule mandatory removes a doctorís ability to make a judgment to delay vaccinating an already sick child.

Thereís also a question about the long-term wisdom of vaccination against less deadly diseases like chicken pox, because the vaccines donít confer lifelong immunity, making children vulnerable again when they are teens and young adultsówhen chicken pox is a much more dangerous disease to get. Vaccine immunity to chicken pox also doesnít come through breastmilk, suddenly making infants, also a population that is hit harder by the disease than young kids, vulnerable. Incidence of shingles in adults (caused by the same virus as chicken pox) is, interestingly, on the rise. (The recent mumps outbreak of a couple years ago was, by the way, among college students who had all been vaccinated as kids. Most measles outbreaks are the same.)

Like I said, itís a tough subject. I do not claim to have the final word on whether any of the above assertions outweigh vaccinationís benefits. But there are enough red flags there that I donít think there can be justification for taking the final decision on that away from parents and giving it to unelected CDC bureaucrats subject to heavy pharmaceutical lobbying.

A10942 would do that. And hereís the thing: I donít even think from a pro-vaccination, herd-immunity standpoint that that would end up being a good thing.

The fact is, most parents are going to follow their doctorís recommendations and fully vaccinate, whether itís mandatory or not.

On the other hand, among those who have decided that they donít want to, a large number of them feel very strongly about it. Strongly enough that if this bill passes theyíre likely to go underground rather than comply. By which I mean, they wonít take their kids to the doctor except in dire emergencies. Not only might this compromise their health in general, it will mean that if they do come down with an illness on the vaccination list, no one will know. Or they wonít know until it gets serious and the child has likely been in contact with other people along the way. (Given the paucity of doctors willing to respect the limited vaccine choices that parents currently do have, some of this is already happening, which is one reason I do support A05468, which allows a philosophical exemption to mandatory vaccines, extending this right to those whose objections are not religious.)

Call me crazy, but if we can protect our freedoms with as good or better health results, thatís my pick. A10942 should be sent back to the labs.

óMiriam Axel-Lute

www.mjoy.org

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