It to Us
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
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
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.