I’m stepping outside of my usual territory as a veterinarian to raise a human healthcare issue– vaccination exemptions. In my state of California, it is very easy for misinformed parents with unfounded concerns about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations to choose not to vaccinate their children and yet send those children to school where they can pose a health risk to others. In the wake of the recent measles outbreak centered at Disneyland, the California state legislature is considering legislation to eliminate the “personal belief” exemption from vaccination requirements for schoolchildren. As a parent and a scientist, I support this legislation and am advocating for it in my community. I have put together some information and links on the subject for others in the state who wish to contact their legislators and urge passage of this bill.
I have started a petition to the CA State Senate and State Assembly which I encourage supports of SB277 to sign:
Here is my letter to the parents in my own child’s school:
The CA State Assembly is currently considering SB277, a bill that originated in the state senate and is intended to reduce the risk of vaccine-preventable disease in California by preventing children from attending schools, daycare centers, or other such institutions if they are not appropriately vaccinated. The legislation allows exemptions for medical reasons but not on the basis of the personal beliefs of parents. As this issue significantly affects all of us as parents of school-aged children, I urge members of the community to inform themselves about this legislation and to make their views known to their representatives.
I have collected some useful links below with additional information about the legislation and with reliable sources of information concerning the relevant vaccines. While parents have the right to refuse vaccination for their children, even when this decision is based on misinformation or fear, they do not have the right to endanger other children or vulnerable individuals through this choice. Opponents of this legislation include extreme anti-vaccine activists who have likened the measure to the Nazi Holocaust and have threatened violence against legislators who support it. Though misguided and misinformed, these views could intimidate politicians into not taking action on this important issue, so it is important that they hear from more moderate citizens with all points of view.
How to Contact Your Representatives
Reliable Information About Vaccines
Here are some statistics on the risks associated with previously common childhood illnesses and the effects of vaccination on these. I think it is clear that we SHOULD prevent these diseases:
Vaccines and Autism
- A recent study of over 95,000 children looked at those at highest risk for ASD, siblings of those with the syndrome, found no link to vaccination, confirming yet again the results of other studies involving millions of children:
“Conclusions and Relevance In this large sample of privately insured children with older siblings, receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of ASD, regardless of whether older siblings had ASD. These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD even among children already at higher risk for ASD.”
- The American Academy of Pediatrics has clearly stated that the extensive research shows no connection between MMR or specific ingredients in vaccines, including thimerosol, and ASD. The AAP has listed many of the original studies here so parents can investigate them for themselves:
- The Centers for Disease Control has also stated directly that “studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD.” Here is the CDC page addressing the issue, again with links to relevant evidence:
- Autism Speaks, a parent and child advocacy group for families affected by ASD has also officially accepted the evidence that vaccines are not linked to the disorder and provides summary of some of the most compelling studies:
“Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”
- For those not into reading research studies, PBS has put together a clear and comprehensible presentation on the vaccine/ASD question and the general issue of childhood vaccinations which is fact-based and informative:
Toxins in Vaccines
In addition to having accurate information about the ingredients in vaccines, it is important to have accurate information about the health effects, if any, of those ingredients. No substance is absolutely safe (it is possible, after all, to die from too much oxygen or water despite the fact that both are necessary for life). Likewise, many substances can be safe or even beneficial at some level or in one form even when they are harmful at a higher level or in a different form.
As an example, people are often familiar with the use of formaldehyde in embalming and with the fact that, under the right circumstances, it can increase the risk of cancer and cause other adverse effects. So it is natural to be surprised to see it listed as an ingredient in vaccines. What people often do not know is:
1. Formaldehyde is produced naturally in the body and is essential in the production and metabolism of certain amino acids needed to make proteins.
2. The amount of formaldehyde in vaccine sis far, far less than what is normally present in our bodies and naturally produced in many foods. The highest possible exposure to this chemical in normal vaccination practice is less than 1% of the amount already present in the body naturally, and the extra is typically metabolized completely within 30 minutes after vaccination.
3. The formaldehyde present in vaccines makes them safer by reducing the risk of vaccines becoming contaminated with viruses and causing infections or other illness.
Here are some further sources of information about formaldehyde and other vaccine ingredients people may have concerns about:
So when considering vaccine ingredients when making decisions about vaccination, it is necessary to find detailed and accurate information about them to determine whether or not we should be concerned about individual compounds.
My letter to my representative:
I write to urge you to vote for SB277, which will make our state’s schools safer.
I appreciate the critical importance to public health of vaccination both as a veterinarian and as the parent of a student in the California public schools. While our generation has been fortunate enough not to see the epidemics of polio, measles, and other vaccine-preventable disease our parents can still remember, many of these disease can and will return to harm our own children if we are not vigilant. Parents certainly have the right to decline vaccination for their children, even if their decision may be based on misinformation and fear. However, they do not have the right to endanger my daughter or others by sending their children to public schools unvaccinated.
The measles outbreak and the pertussis epidemic are stark reminders of how fragile we are as a community. SB277 will protect our children and communities by raising the vaccination rates. SB277 is the best way to ensure that the weakest among us – the young, the ill, the old, and those for whom vaccines don’t work – are safe from vaccine-preventable disease.
We are relying on you to help protect our communities. This legislation is the right thing to do. Please vote for it.