No Shots, No School?
Informed Choice and Childhood Immunization
By Christie Keith
This article is intended to provide resources for further research into the issue of childhood immunization. It is informational in nature, and is not intended as medical advice. The author and publisher cannot be held responsible for any unfavorable results from the use of this information. Readers should seek professional medical advice for any health decisions involving themselves or their children.
To many people, it comes as quite a shock to find there are those who question both the safety and efficacy of vaccination. Most of us were vaccinated in our childhoods, and did not suffer any noticeable ill effects. Many parents believe that an unvaccinated child is legally prevented from attending school in their state, or even believe that they can be forced to immunize their child.
Most parents, after researching childhood immunization, opt to vaccinate their children. They might alter the ages at which they immunize, or perhaps forgo vaccination for one or more of the diseases. While there are risks to vaccination, most parents find the risk of disease to outweigh those risks.
But all health decisions should be informed decisions, and there are questions that parents should ask about childhood immunization. In addition, each parent has the legal right not to vaccinate their child, and this fact is not widely known. Another fact, also not widely known, is that if your child is injured by a vaccination, you have the right to compensation under the law.
How Can I Get More Information?
There is no shortage of pro-vaccination information in our society, and virtually all doctors will say that vaccines have been one of the greatest success stories of western medicine. They are almost universally credited with eliminating polio and other fatal diseases from the developed world. The risks associated with childhood immunizations are generally seen as either not serious, or if serious, then extremely rare.
Anti-vaccination literature is largely not scientifically based, is highly emotional, and primarily anecdotal. Pro-vaccination literature is generally passionless, quotes statistics in support of the procedure, and has the credibility of all the decades of white-coated research and drug company and government PR campaigns behind it. Where can parents examine the facts?
In the field of alternative medicine, one of the most dispassionate and reasoned analyses of childhood immunization I have ever encountered is the book The Vaccine Guide: Risks and Benefits for Children and Adults by Randall Neustaedter, OMD, who has a pediatric practice in Palo Alto. Neustaedter is the author of the textbook Homeopathic Pediatrics, past director of the homeopathic medicine department at Pacific College of Naturopathic Medicine, a lecturer at the Hahnemann College of Homeopathy, and received his Doctorate in Oriental Medicine in Hong Kong. Despite his unconventional medical background, Neustaedter avoids most of the traps that other alternative vaccination writers fall into. He explains the various diseases and their symptoms and risks, examines the safety and efficacy of each individual immunization, and suggests protocols and alternatives for parents who opt for every alternative, from complete adherence to standard recommendations to a complete refusal to immunize at all.
In The Vaccine Guide, Neustaedter says parents need to look at three main things in making decisions about vaccinating their child:
What Are The Risks?
- Individual disease incidence and severity
- Vaccine side effects
- Access to alternative medical care (if the child contracts the disease)
Probably the single most controversial childhood vaccination is that for pertussis (whooping cough), generally given as part of a three-way combination known as "DPT" (Diptheria/Pertussis/Tetanus). According to James Strain, M.D., President of the American Academy of Pediatrics: "Our main concern is with the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. One in 3,000 doses causes permanent injury to a child." The Global Vaccine Awareness League (GVAL) cautions that, since each child is expected to receive four doses of DPT vaccine, permanent injury occurs in one out of every 750 children. Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995, lost her hearing following a childhood DPT vaccination.
Since 1988, the United States government has paid out over half a billion dollars in compensation for vaccine injury and death, and the head of the FDA has estimated that only one in ten adverse vaccine reactions are actually reported.
What If I Don't Want To Vaccinate My Child ?
Most parents choose to vaccinate their children, because they decide the risk of the disease outweighs the risks of the vaccines. But what if you decide that the immunizations are not worth the risk?
According to the GVAL, nearly all states have at least some form of "exemption from mandatory childhood vaccinations, based either upon personal or religious belief or for medical reasons. In California, state law provides for mandatory vaccinations for diphtheria, hepatitis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, and tetanus, and any other diseases designated by the Department of Health Services in consultation with the Center for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. This requirement is waived if the person 'files with the governing authority a letter or affidavit stating that the immunization is contrary to his or her beliefs.' If the exemption is exercised, the student may be temporarily excluded from school if 'there is good cause to believe that the person has been exposed' to one of the enumerated diseases 'until the local health officer is satisfied that the person is no longer at risk of developing the disease.' (California Health and Safety Code Section 120365). This is the 'personal beliefs' exemption in California law."
How do you exercise your right to the personal belief exemption? "The exemption is fairly easy to exercise. Each student in California is required to submit a 'California School Immunization Record' to be admitted to school (California Health and Safety Code Section 12-375). On the reverse of the form is the following statement: 'I hereby request exemption of the child, named in the front, from the immunization requirements for school/child care center entry because these immunizations are contrary to my beliefs. I understand that in case of an outbreak of any of these diseases, the child may be temporarily excluded from school for his/her protection.' To exercise the exemption, you simply sign the immunization record under this statement."
What If My Child Suffers Side Effects?
It is not possible to sue the manufacturers of vaccines. In October 1988, federal legislation created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which indemnifies drug companies against lawsuits stemming from vaccine injury.
According to GVAL, "the Program is a 'no-fault' system of claims adjudication similar to workers compensation, meant to provide a means of providing speedy compensation to victims while protecting vaccine manufacturers and health providers from excessive liability and litigation costs. Prior to creation of the Program, several vaccine manufacturers were making overt plans to withdraw from production because of the rising costs of litigation. There was also a concern that the continuing litigation and public outcry over the possible harmful effects of mandated vaccinations would undermine public confidence in vaccines in general."
For more information on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, vaccination education and awareness, or laws related to childhood immunization, you can contact the Global Vaccine Awareness League at PO Box 2264, Mill Valley, CA 94941, 415-898-0458. You can also visit their website at http://www.gval.com, where there are many links to articles both for and against childhood immunization.