Vaccine Exemptions Spark Debate
Sep 03, 2010

By Christine Vara
In reviewing the comments on my last post regarding personal belief exemptions, it is obvious that I struck a chord with many of you.  While I was surprised by the response to this particular piece, I was also excited that so many of you chose to contribute to the discussion.  In light of some of the comments, I feel the need to clarify a few things for the visitors to this blog. 
First, I want to identify myself as a wife and a mother.  I am not a licensed medical professional, nor have I been schooled in public health.   I am simply a parent who is attempting to navigate the confusing, never-ending, and often emotional, maze of vaccine information.  Second, my contributions to this blog represent my own personal perspective, created from the challenges of attempting to raise five active, healthy children in a very uncertain and changing world.  It has been my goal to learn more about vaccine related issues, and I have chosen to share my journey with you through this blog
I recognize that many of you who read my posts are personally, and maybe even professionally, involved in some kind of vaccine advocacy (perhaps in favor of vaccines, perhaps not).  However, the audience I seek to engage also includes parents, like me, who are trying to make sense of the volumes of information regarding vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases.   I have no desire to ignite adversarial commentary, but I do hope to develop a forum that will raise awareness and engage people in thought-provoking conversation.
To be honest, there are days when the rhetoric in response to some vaccine related news disgusts and infuriates me to the point where I have no desire to participate.  However, these instances are juxtaposed with moments of clarity, concern and the desire to help other parents to discover credible information that they can use to make educated decisions for themselves and their families.   
Last week, in the midst of trying to prepare my own children for the upcoming school year, I came across an article entitled “Vaccine Refusals Are On the Rise” in the San Diego Union-Tribune with information that both surprised and concerned me.  It included research statistics from the Watchdog Institute that detailed information about the use of vaccine exemptions in California schools and it became the catalyst for my last post.  The news on this issue continues with a recent article in Newsweek, entitled “California Cracks Down on Unvaccinated Kids”
Let me first explain that I completely understand that there are instances, such as in the case of compromised immune systems or allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients, which prevent people (both children and adults) from receiving immunizations, even if they would want them.   Fortunately, for those who can’t be vaccinated, the concept of herd immunity helps to provide them with some protection and each state offers medical exemptions to address these cases.   However, with the more recent addition of personal belief exemptions, there has been an increase in the number of parents using this type of exemption to allow their children to be admitted into school without one, or some, of the state mandated immunizations.  What the San Diego Union-Tribune article was referring to, and what I was commenting on through my post, was the possibility that a growing number of personal belief exemptions could eventually present an increased risk in the spread of vaccine preventable diseases in school.
As seen in the various comments, opinions on the subject were varied. Whatever your position may be on the use of vaccinations for your child, and the use of personal exemptions in some 20 states, perhaps we can all acknowledge the need for better communication in regards to vaccine use and safety. 
Not surprisingly, a recent Rasmussen report indicates that 52% of American adults are concerned about safety of vaccinations for children.  Personally, I suspect that this means that concerns are not properly being addressed or effectively communicated on either side of the issue, and so many people remained unconvinced regarding their safety concerns.  Maybe parents do not have confidence in the information they are receiving due to a growing skepticism in today’s society.  Maybe it has become more difficult for parents to develop strong, trusting relationships with their primary care physicians, due to lack of time, accessibility or other health care trends and so they no longer value the advice of their doctor.  Or perhaps it’s because parents become confused and frustrated when they try to search for information on the internet.  Overwhelmed by conflicting information and stories of scary outcomes, both in favor of, or in opposition to, vaccination, they may simply resolve themselves to remain “concerned”. When it comes right down to it, each individual may have a complex set of reasons why they are concerned and we may never fully understand those reasons.    
Interestingly enough, the Rasmussen report goes on to note that while adults are concerned about the safety of the vaccines themselves, they are more worried about the consequences of not vaccinating children.  A majority (76%) say they are concerned that unvaccinated children will cause health problems for other children.  This is eye-opening for me.  While it’s typical for parents to want  what is best for their children, it is actually reassuring to me (in this often cynical, look-out-for-number-one world) that there are a significant number of people who are willing to accept a certain level of risk for the good of public health.  Now, I don’t expect everyone to embrace this concept.  (In fact, I may have just touched upon another emotional debate.)  However, each day that my husband puts his country before himself and his family in service of this nation, I appreciate that there are people who are willing to honor the “good of the many”.  
Certainly, I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, which will ultimately influence their choices.  As I continue my journey, I hope to learn more from each of you as we engage in further conversation regarding these complex issues.  Perhaps you may even consider contributing a guest post to Shot of Prevention to further facilitate a forum that we all can participate in.  In the meantime, I will continue to share my thoughts here in hopes that my one small voice can somehow, and in some way, impact the health and well-being of a child, a family and perhaps even, eventually, an entire community.

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