Banishing Religious Exemptions for Vaccinations [PHIL-OSOPHY]
All 50 states require certain vaccinations for children attending public school, with the exceptions made for children who cannot tolerate them because of medical reasons.
Most states also grant exemptions for people who oppose vaccination for religious reasons, and until recently 16 states allowed exemptions based on moral, philosophical, personal or other beliefs as well.
Massachusetts allows for religious and medical exemptions for now, but that could change if one bill, H.3999, by Rep. Andres Vargas (D-Haverhill) passes, eliminating the religious exemption entirely. There's another bill, H.4096/S.2359, sponsored by Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham) and Rep. Paul Donato (D-Medford), that would standardize the process for obtaining a religious exemption and increase state involvement. But for now, I'll just focus on H.3999.
There are legitimate and passionate arguments on both sides of the question as to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. As measles spread across the state, legislators trying to curb the numbers of unvaccinated children have been met with vigorous opposition from upset parents. Medical experts agree that vaccines prevent epidemics, save lives, and are very safe, though complications occur in some cases. Yet eliminating religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccination has proved very difficult, pitting neighbors against neighbors.
One side says if your kids aren't vaccinated, then home school them. But opposition to vaccines has been around for almost as long as vaccines themselves. There are cases where children have had near-fatal reactions to live virus vaccines.
Massachusetts became the first state to make smallpox vaccination compulsory in the early 1800s, and in 1827, Boston became the first city to require schoolchildren to be vaccinated. Officials in Cambridge sought to enforce the law during a 1902 outbreak of smallpox and filed charges against a citizen who refused to be vaccinated because an earlier smallpox vaccination had made him and his son ill. The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1905 that states had the authority to make vaccinations mandatory.
On this issue, the Boston Globe's editorial board has made its view clear: "Lawmakers should heed science, not anti-vaccine activists."
But wait, there certainly are legitimate reasons not to vaccinate and parents should have the freedom to make those decisions.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.