By Janet Levatin, MD
Slowly but surely, US citizens are losing their right to decline vaccines, which has long been one of our established and protected rights. Whether you are in favor of or opposed to vaccinating, it seems obvious that in a free country, people should have the unfettered right to decline vaccination, which is, by definition, an elective procedure.
All states but two (West Virginia and Mississippi) have laws allowing parents to decline vaccines for their school-aged children based on their religious beliefs, and 18 states also allow for parents to decline vaccines on the basis of their philosophical beliefs. Many states also have vaccine laws detailing vaccine requirements and waivers for daycare, higher education, and adults.
Here are some samples of the state laws for school-aged children:
Religious waiver law from Massachusetts: “No child whose parent or guardian states in writing that vaccination or immunization conflicts with his sincere religious beliefs shall be required to present an immunization certificate in order to be admitted to school.”
Religious/philosophical waiver from Ohio: “A pupil who presents a written statement of the pupil’s parent or guardian in which the parent or guardian declines to have the pupil immunized for reasons of conscience, including religious convictions, is not required to be immunized.”
The religious waivers of most states are non-sectarian, which means that a family does not have to be a member of a specific religion or church to utilize the waiver. If your general religious views include not harming children, and you believe vaccination could harm your child, then vaccination would be against your religious beliefs, thus allowing you to claim a religious waiver based on your general religious beliefs.
Currently there is a growing move to end vaccine waivers. This idea has been showing up in medical journals, print media and TV media regularly. These opinion pieces are often written by doctors, perhaps to give them a heightened sense of validity.
Several states have enacted laws making it more difficult to decline vaccines. For example, a recently-enacted amendment to the vaccine statute in California requires parents to submit with their vaccine waiver, “A signed attestation from the health care practitioner that indicates that the health care practitioner provided the parent or guardian of the person who is subject to the immunization requirements … with information regarding the benefits and risks of the immunization and the health risks of the communicable disease … to the person and to the community.” In other words, declining vaccines now requires an “information” session with a medical practitioner and an extra document signed by the practitioner.
Similar laws have just gone into effect in Colorado and Oregon, where parents declining vaccines need to present either a signature from a health care practitioner “verifying that the practitioner has reviewed with the parent information about the risks and benefits of immunization that is consistent with information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the contents of the vaccine educational module approved by the [state] authority,” or “a certificate verifying that the parent had completed a vaccine educational module approved by the [same] authority … .” Another hoop for parents to jump through…
Washington state law was amended in 2011 to require the signature of a health care provider on parental waiver forms unless the parents belong to a church that holds non-vaccinating as a principle, such as the Church of Christ, Scientist. In 2012 the Vermont legislature tried to pass a low to eliminate philosophical waivers; thankfully, the bill did not pass in the House of Representatives (although it passed in the Senate).
I believe that the next step in this erosion of our freedoms could be a withdrawal of all forms of religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions. This has already happened to adults working in healthcare, and I believe it is only a matter of time before pro-vaccine forces refuse to allow parents the personal freedom to choose what they believe is right for their children’s health. Our only hope is for large numbers of people to take steps to stand up against this dangerous trend. To feel you are not alone, join the NVIC Advocacy portal. Freedom of choice with regard to vaccines is a protection we cannot afford to lose.