The Vaccine for Pollyanna Attitudes Toward Public Health and Religious Beliefs: Religious Exemptions for Vaccinations and Medical Neglect Need to Be Repealed Now and the Federal Government (and the Insurance Industry) Need to Incentivize the States to Do So

Posted in: Constitutional Law

For decades the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control have strongly recommended that infants and children be immunized for a range of dangerous childhood diseases. The first five to be given include Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis; H. influenzae type B; Hepatitis B; Polio; and Pneumococcal (PCV13). Most of us have no experience with these diseases, but in light of the current outbreaks of measles and now mumps, we obviously need to be educated, because each of these diseases can lead to death or permanent disability, from paralysis to deafness.

At this point, these deadly diseases and more can be prevented by widespread immunization, which reaches the level of “herd immunity,” or the percentage where the disease is effectively eradicated. The United States had made tremendous progress on this score, but we are moving back to square one. Herd immunity is a scientific fact and the outer limit for exemptions from vaccination. If herd immunity is not met, a disease remains a threat.

Many have attributed the current round of measles to the so-called “anti-vaxxers” who refused to vaccinate their children based on false medical conclusions that vaccines cause autism. But they did not invent the idea of exemptions from vaccination requirements; they simply exploited them.

There Is No Constitutional Right to Refuse to Vaccinate a Child

Adults may, for any reason, refuse medical treatment and prevention if they so choose. But, as the Supreme Court said in Prince v. Massachusetts, no parent may make a “martyr” of their child. The Court explicitly stated in Prince that there is no constitutional right to “claim freedom from compulsory vaccination for the child . . . on religious grounds. The right to practice religions freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.” Nor is there a constitutional right to fail to vaccinate a child under any other constitutional grounds.

Therefore, the only legal route for a parent to avoid the mandatory vaccination laws is through the doors of the state houses. Legislators are responsible for the current exemptions endangering Americans. They are also responsible for repealing these misguided laws.

One Cause of the Reduction in Herd Immunity Is a Plethora of State Religious Exemptions to Vaccination Requirements

The blame for the fall in herd immunity belongs to the misguided religious exemptions to vaccination requirements in most states. These religious exemptions laid the groundwork for the anti-vaxxers to then argue for a right to a “philosophical” objection.

This foolishness was encouraged by a misguided social attitude and the Nixon Administration.

First, from the 1950s until relatively recently there has been a Pollyanna attitude in the United States toward religious actors that they always act in everyone’s best interest. Legislators have blindly (and at this point stupidly) granted religious lobbyists’ demands to be above the laws that apply to everyone else. The result has been a devastating decline in the public good, which in the case of vaccinating children is undermining herd immunity. This Pollyanna viewpoint has fed into an equally disturbing rise in the notion that each believer has a right to a self-enclosed universe of “rights” without reference to anyone else. Under any ordinary definition, this is narcissism.

We see both the Pollyanna and the narcissistic features in the vaccination and medical neglect exemptions that threaten children every day in the United States, and in the cancer of extreme religious liberty statutes like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the state RFRAs.

Second, the Nixon Administration jump-started the current exemptions regime by incentivizing the states to create medical neglect exemptions for parents who treat sick children solely with prayer as a pre-condition for federal Medicare funding, as I discuss in chapter 2 of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty. This federal move normalized the concept that parents could or should be permitted to endanger their children for their faith. Now, children are dying in states like Idaho where some parents deny their children all medical care, let alone vaccinations.

A Second Cause of the Reduction in Herd Immunity Is the States’ Failure to Require and Track the Vaccination of All Children in the State

The public schools have been relatively successful in imposing a vaccination requirement on their students, although they can only enforce what the state law requires. Due to the misguided vaccination exemptions, there are too many children in the public schools who are not vaccinated. They are harmed, because they are more vulnerable to deadly diseases. We are harmed, because they reduce herd immunity. Further, these children are also harmed when there is an outbreak, because the school must bar them from school until the risk of contracting the disease has diminished—often a period of 2-3 weeks.

Once the states repeal the misguided exemptions, leaving in place solely the necessary medical exemptions, they need to institute systems that will ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated.

How to do that? Right now, every state has a mandatory education law, and every child is required to be educated up to at least middle school. (Sadly, the Supreme Court, in a decision that defines “Pollyanna,” allowed the Amish in Wisconsin v. Yoder to foreshorten their children’s education, which opened the door for other believers to fail to fully educate their children, but that is an issue for another day.) Plus public schools make immunization a prerequisite for attendance.

The state should impose and enforce the same requirement for all children through the mandatory education laws, regardless of where they are educated.

How? The states impose minimum curriculum requirements on every child, whether educated in public or private schools or via home-schooling. That means each and every child needs access to textbooks and laboratory materials, among other things, and, the states provide such materials for free to every student in every context. Those teaching materials should not be provided without proof from the school (or home-schooling family) that each child has been vaccinated.

Homeschoolers too often educate their children under the radar, because of the difficulty in enforcing educational requirements family-by-family. But they are not completely beyond the regulation of the states. Homeschoolers successfully have forced numerous school districts to provide their children entry into extracurricular activities and special education resources. No child should be permitted to take advantage of those programs without proof of full vaccination.

The Federal Government and Insurance Industry Also Have a Role to Play

The federal government should incentivize the states to undo what the Nixon Administration started: to eliminate vaccination and medical neglect exemptions. For example, increase Medicaid and CHIP funding in those states that have reduced health risk and cost through the repeal of philosophical and religious exemptions.

We wear seatbelts because the insurance industry made it happen. Lives were saved. The insurance industry, which was the biggest winner under the Affordable Care Act, now should be actively and creatively working to ensure that every child is vaccinated (who can medically handle it). One approach to consider: the industry charges more for higher risks from obesity and smoking. The same reasoning applies ten-fold with respect to child immunization. The family that does not immunize should have to pay a heavy penalty in insurance premiums, and face vaccination as a pre-requisite to other medical treatments for their children.

Enough of the anti-vaxxers’ free ride, whether the objection is philosophical, religious, or neglect. Some have suggested parents who do not vaccinate should be sued if their child infects another child who dies or is permanently disabled. That is how the legal system works, and that is likely to happen. But lawmakers must focus now on preventing the need for such lawsuits in the future by ensuring children’s health and safety through vaccination.

It’s time to repeal vaccination exemptions in each state as well as reinforce and enforce vaccination requirements across the board. That means state and federal legislators and the powerful industry lobby must step up and do what is right.

  • Tash

    All the diseases/disabilities etc. are from getting vaccinated. It is very sad that people like you that know nothing about want to force Lu people to harm their children with these things! If you wish to you can vaccinate yourself with every vaccinate that every vaccine any random person comes up with; but you need to STOP discriminating against people who want to keep their children safe and disease free, ESSPECIALLY discriminating against the freedom of religion as you do in every post!!

  • hippie

    their jurisdiction only applies on property owned by the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. read the employee handbook call U.S constitution

  • miguel thecreditor

    since when is the govt. authorized to tell parents what medications to put or not put into their childrens bodies?? are you kidding me? why dont you tell people about the secret vaccine courts where parents of damaged children go to get compensated from injury from vaccines?? vaccines are dangerous they are not 100% safe just read the inserts, that is child abuse to force poison into your child if you dont want to,

    Children are the parents private property not the govts.

  • Marcella Ann

    There are several major fallacies in your argument. First, you completely ignore the reality that vaccinations are not a risk free product. There are serious adverse reactions associated with vaccines. CDC Director of Immunization Safety Dr. Frank DeStefano has even admitted that vaccines trigger neurological damage in a subset of genetically susceptible children, and that there is no way to identify these children until it happens to them.

    Our government has protected the pharmaceutical industry from any liability when vaccines cause injury. We cannot allow the government to mandate a product that has no guarantee of being either safe or effective, and then protect the manufacturer from liability when the product fails or does damage.

    Next, herd immunity has been demonstrated to work with NATURAL infection that produces lifelong immunity. Vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time, which make herd immunity a myth. While the media is busy blaming “anti-vaxxers” for the current measles outbreak in California, the reality is that 59% of cases are in adults over the age of 20. While vaccination status is not disclosed, we know that the vast majority of American adults have been vaccinated for measles. The majority of adults whose vaccine immunity has waned are the true source of infectious disease risk in this country, not the tiny percentage of unvaccinated children.

    The MMR originally promised to confer lifelong immunity with one dose. When that didn’t work, a second dose was added. Now it is clear that immunity wanes after a second dose, and we are hearing that adults should get boosters. How can the government require us to use a product, and then when the product fails, require us to use more of it?

    Beyond that, the vaccine schedule is rapidly expanding. Children today receive 49 doses of 14 vaccines by age 6. Today’s 6-month-old baby has already received more vaccines than her mother received by age 18. While individual vaccines are tested for safety, there are NO safety studies on the vaccine schedule as a whole. In addition, hundreds of new vaccines are currently in development. If we lose the right to make personal decisions about vaccination, we can expect all of those vaccines to be forced on us in the near future. How far will we let this go?

    Your suggestion of higher insurance rates for unvaccinated people does not follow fact either. There is no evidence that higher vaccination rates lead to healthier people or to lower health care costs. Mississippi, where there are no religious or philosophical vaccine exemptions, has both the highest childhood vaccination rate and the highest child mortality rate in the nation. Since measles is the current hot topic, let’s look at some actual data: Mississippi did not have any cases of measles in 2013. Oregon, with the highest vaccine exemption rate in the country (6.4%), had 5 measles cases in 2013, none of which led to serious complications. In a population the size of Mississippi (2.9 million) or Oregon (3.8 million), there is no statistically signficant difference between 0 and 5 cases.

    The idea of suing unvaccinated people when someone catches a disease is just absurd. You cannot trace the source of exposure. You cannot sue an unvaccinated neighbor for germs you may well have picked up from the grocery store shopping cart or any doorknob in town. There seems to be a media-inspired false perception in this country that unvaccinated children are magically spreading germs they have never had. People need to stop and think about this. A healthy unvaccinated person cannot spread a disease. On the flip side, a person recently vaccinated with a live virus CAN spread that disease. The live vaccines, including MMR, rotavirus, and FluMist, carry warnings about staying away from immune-compromised people for a period of time after vaccination. There is also evidence from the FDA that people vaccinated for pertussis can carry and spread pertussis bacteria without showing any symptoms. Do you also suggest suing recently vaccinated people who go out in public and risk exposing others?

    We live in a country that was founded on the idea of personal freedom. Perhaps the most personal of all freedoms in the right to decide what is put into your own body. Very few Americans decide for religious or other personal reasons to avoid vaccination, with a total median exemption rate of 1.8% (kindergarten, 2013-2014 school year). It is also important to note that an exemption must be filed for a child missing even one dose of one vaccine. Most children with exemptions are partially vaccinated, and overall coverage rates for most vaccines are still above the levels recommended for “herd immunity.”

    Parents choosing to decline vaccines do so after extensive research from sources like the FDA, CDC, and WHO, and after weighing potential risks and benefits for their individual child. Many make the choice after personally witnessing a serious vaccine reaction in one of their children or in a close family member (raising concern that they are among those unidentifiable genetically susceptible people acknowledged by the CDC). There is no “anti-vax movement,” but rather individual responsible parents doing what is best for their own family, within their legal rights as Americans. The fear-mongering and draconian measures being suggested in the wake of the current media-fabricated “epidemic” (110 cases in a population of 320 million people is NOT an epidemic) need to stop. We need to take a step back and look at reality, and consider the importance of the personal rights on which our country was founded. If we give up the right to choose what is put into our own bodies, what is next?

  • sweetsuzee

    It’s amazing how professionally you can articulate such drivel. Although I would rather see everyone vaccinated, the fact still remains that our Constitution says what it says and just because a court chose to interpret the unambiguous plain and simple language otherwise, still doesn’t make it so. However, the progressives were ecstatic as we inch closer and closer to a police state and total government control.

    • Brian

      well, if you read the Constitution the US Supreme Courts is not some court but the Court of last resort in our Constitution. So, sorry, it does make it so until such unlikely time in the future 5 of 9 of the judges decide to ignore the past. That is quite rare. To hold your argument as useful, one could ignore all decisions you do not like (race, equal rights, abortion and the like) as frivolous variances of the Constitution as you apparently believe on this issue. So, when you buying slaves?

  • Barbara Feick Gregory

    Childhood illnesses were one of God’s creations. We do our best to provide a good environment so our children will be healthy. If they get sick, it is wonderful to have medical treatments, and if a child dies, he died a natural death. If, on the other hand, we vaccinate a healthy child knowing that there is a risk however small and that child dies, we are guilty of murder. God did not make a mistake when he created us or disease. We make a mistake when we try to play God.