Parents who do not want to vaccinate their kids need to leave them at home.
That is the message a New York judge sent this week. You no doubt are aware of the debate regarding whether to vaccinate your children and the connection between Autism and some vaccinations (sidebar — I have read, over and over again, there is no connection between the two.)
Yet there is a stronger debate raging amongst school officials and parents, and it’s regarding “forced vaccinations” and the Constitutional rights of parents.
On the one hand, most, if not all, public schools require students to be vaccinated before attending. On the other hand, many parents claim it violates their religious beliefs to get vaccinations and refuse to vaccinate their children by submitting exemption forms to the schools.
This week a federal judge upheld a New York City school policy that barred “unimmunized children from public school when another student has a vaccine-preventable disease.”
In other words, this judge ruled that if parents choose not to vaccinate their child then that child has to stay home when another kid at the school has a disease that is vaccine-preventable. The purpose is not to trample on the rights of the parents, but to stop the spread of the relevant disease. New York City has a policy, as most states and educational institutions do, that schools require students to get some basic vaccinations before attending. However, there is an exemption for parents who believe vaccinations conflict with their religious or personal beliefs. There is no lie detector test employed, the parents just often have to fill out a form or write a letter dictating their beliefs and refusal to vaccinate.
Arizona is actually one step ahead of New York City in that we have a law (New York City just had a policy) already on the books addressing this situation. A.R.S. 15-872 states
“a pupil shall not be allowed to attend school without submitting documentary proof to the school administrator unless the pupil is exempted from immunization…”
Arizona does allow an exemption for personal beliefs under A.R.S. 15-873; however,
“pupils who lack documentary proof of immunization shall not attend school during outbreak periods of communicable immunization-preventable diseases…”
Just this year we have heard about various diseases popping up around our country and spreading unnecessarily. I say unnecessarily because the diseases have been vaccine-preventable. For example, there was a measles outbreak in New York and another one in California. Had all the students been vaccinated the spread could have been stopped.
A note about religious freedoms and beliefs; in our country you can believe what you want to believe and you can practice your religion as long as your acts do not violate any laws and are not dangerous to the public. A claim of religious beliefs is not a get out of jail free card, there are limitations. Judge William Kuntz found in this case that the government interest in preventing the spread of diseases outweighs an individual American’s parental right to refuse to vaccinate their child. After all, it will end up being the government’s responsibility to clean up and contain any disease outbreak in our country.
This debate highlights the age old issue of individual freedoms versus the greater good. This issue is held very near and dear to many Americans and is polarizing. When does the government’s interest of ensuring the greater good outweigh an individual’s Constitutional rights? For example, is it more important for a parent to exercise this particular religious belief or is it more important to stop the spread of disease? Our country will not come to an agreement on its own, a court will need to do this for us.
This is an issue that has been heating up over the past decade and I anticipate it will gain more heat and momentum until the Supreme Court of the United States makes a final decision. For now, I agree with Arizona law and Judge Kuntz. Parents, you can refuse to vaccinate your children but you will need to keep them home from school in some situations.