Immunizations: A Parent's Choice
By Chris Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #35, 2000.
Most kids don't get ill or die from most vaccines. So should we have to immunize our kids for the sake of national health?
What would you do if your 6-month-old baby, who had been completely healthy, suddenly came down with a violent fever shortly after receiving a vaccine, resulting in brain damage? What if you knew someone whose otherwise normal baby inexplicably died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) they day after a series of immunizations? Would you vaccinate your children?
On the other hand, what if you heard of a family in your church whose children all contracted whooping cough and were horribly sick for over two months. Every night the parents were up with their children holding them while they wheezed and could barely catch their breath. The family was opposed to vaccines on religious grounds and never had their children immunized. Wouldn't you vaccinate your children?
These examples are true and typify the scores of real-life stories I have encountered over the last 15 years in my role as Senior Counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Advocates for mandatory immunizations will argue, "Without forced shots, many children could die. Certain deadly infectious diseases that are virtually nonexistent would be given new life." There are some organizations and individuals who regularly work toward passing legislation that would mandate vaccines for all children. These groups sincerely believe that vaccines are necessary to protect the health of our nation's youth and to avoid any epidemics.
Those against mandatory immunizations will argue, "But it is my child and I cannot risk the potential harm to my child that might be caused by the vaccine." Growing scientific and medical evidence demonstrates the dangers of vaccines to some children. Even the federal government concedes there is a problem, since it has established a special fund called The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program that reimburses parents for children who die from or are permanently disabled by vaccines.
In addition to the health concerns, some parents hold sincere religious convictions that make it impossible for them to consent to their children's vaccination.
The dilemma faced by each parent is summarized in these two questions: "Should I vaccinate my children?" and "Should the government mandate vaccinations for all children?"
There is no easy answer to the first question. Each parent must prayerfully make that decision for their children.
The answer to the second question is definitively, "No." The goal in this article is to primarily deal with the topic of why mandatory immunizations are troublesome and to briefly discuss what your rights as parents are regarding the vaccination of your children.
Do Vaccines Harm Children?
Vaccines can sometimes cause permanent injury and death. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has paid out over 1 billion dollars in damages to families for injuries and deaths following a vaccine reaction.1
Every year the Food and Drug Administration receives 12,000-14,000 reports to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) of hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following vaccination.2 Estimates of underreporting range from 1% to 10%.3
According to the vaccine manufacturers' own product inserts, most vaccines have not been "evaluated or tested for their carcinogenic potential, mutagenic potential, or for impairment of fertility" or "reproductive capacity," and there have been no long term studies on the cumulative effects on the child's developing immune system of combining all the childhood vaccines together. There are no genetic or lab screening tests available to determine which children will react to a vaccine.4
There is no doubt some vaccines harm some children. No parents can be completely assured that a vaccine administered to their children will be safe. The admission by the federal government in providing financial remuneration to families whose children have adversely suffered from vaccines is sufficient evidence. All doctors, before they administer a vaccination, inform the parents of the potential damaging side effects. Medical science has established that everyone's immune system is different and a baby's immune system is not fully formed until he is almost three years old. To administer vaccines in a one-size-fits-all approach to all babies poses a significant risk to some children.
For instance, in 1979, the medical community officially declared polio dead. However, ever since then approximately 10 to 20 cases of polio are reported each year . . . and all of the cases were contracted by administration of the live polio vaccine.
Religious and Conscientious Objection to Immunizations
Immunizations should not be mandated for all children, since many parents have strong religious convictions opposed to vaccinating their children. Because of the research and case studies demonstrating the risks of vaccination, many parents sincerely believe that such vaccines would harm their children. Generally, these parents believe that children are a gift from God, and that they as parents must fulfill the commands in Scripture as to how their children must be raised. These parents believe that it would be a sin to violate the commands of Scripture. One of those commands is found in Matthew 18:6 where Jesus Christ explains that if they "harm one of these little ones, it is better that a millstone be tied around their neck and they be thrown into the ocean." Since harm could come to their children as a result of vaccines, these parents cannot allow their children to receive immunization.
As a result of these religious convictions and others, forty-eight state legislatures have provided religious or conscientious/philosophical exemptions for parents with similar beliefs. Sixteen states allow for conscientious parental choice exemptions: AZ, CA, CO, ID, LA, ME, MI, MN, NM, ND, OH, OK, UT, VT, WA, AND WI. Only Mississippi and West Virginia have no religious or philosophical exemptions. However, Mississippi does allow an automatic exemption for homeschool students. According to Centers for Disease Control surveys, states allowing for conscientious choice exemptions do not have higher rates of vaccine-preventable illnesses.
These religious exemption statutes simply codify the protections of an individual's right to freely exercise his religious belief as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and parallel portions of the state constitutions. These religious exemption statutes have been in place for decades without posing any major risk to public health. Faith-based decisions concerning immunizing one's children have consistently been protected by the courts. See Berg v. Glen Cove City School District, 853 F.Supp. 651 (E.D.N.Y. 1994); Sherr v. Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, 672 F. Supp. 81 (E.D.N.Y. 1987).
The Decision to Immunize: A Parent's Choice
The jury is still out. The evidence is mounting that demonstrates vaccines cause harm to some children. The question is whose children will be harmed? Mandating vaccinations is legislating harm on certain children each year. The decision therefore to vaccinate or not vaccinate a child must be left to the parents and not the state. Homeschool parents especially should have liberty to make this decision since their children stay at home rather than attending public school five days a week.
As mentioned earlier, parents have a fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. This is guaranteed by the Liberty Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a long line of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized this foundational freedom of parental liberty. [See Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 1076, 1078 (1925).] Since parental rights are fundamental, a higher standard of review must be applied by the courts whenever there is a conflict between a parent and the state. The compelling interest test requires that a state prove its regulation is essential to fulfill a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive means of fulfilling that interest. The state must also prove this burden with evidence.
It has long been recognized that the state has a compelling interest in the public health and safety of its citizens. Immunizations have been shown to be effective in protecting the public health for a majority of citizens. However, immunizations have also been proven to harm some of its citizens. There is no conclusive proof, therefore, that mandatory immunizations are essential to protect the public health in light of this inconsistent record. Nor is there conclusive evidence that mandatory vaccinations are the least restrictive means to fulfill the state's compelling interest in protecting the public health. The most effective deterrents to these infectious diseases are enactment and enforcement of public sanitation laws.
This year in Iowa, the Senate actually repealed the exemption giving a parent the right to object on religious grounds to the immunization of a child. [Senate File (SF) 2314].
HSLDA, the Network of Christian Home Educators, and the National Vaccine Information Center teamed together to fight this bill. By God's grace, the bill was amended in a House committee on March 14 to reinstate the religious exemption, ending the battle.
Parents Must Be Free to Choose
Parental liberty is a precious freedom enjoyed by all Americans since the founding of our nation. It is long recognized as a general principle that parents act in the best interest of their children, and as a result make the best decisions for their children. The area of health is no exception. We must work together to keep the decision to immunize in the hands of parents. We at HSLDA are committed to advance parental rights in this area and to work to keep the religious exemption to immunizations intact.
For information on the latest vaccine research I recommend that you contact and subscribe to their newsletter. The National Vaccine Information Center, 512 W. Maple Avenue, #206 Vienna, VA 22180. (800) 909-SHOT. Web: www.909shot.com.
- National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program "Monthly Statistics Report," www.hrsa.dhhs.gov/bhpr/vicp/monthly.htm and www.hrsa.dhhs.gov/bhpr/vicp.
- The Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System (VAERS), www.vaers.org.
- Journal of the American Medical Association, June 2, 1993, Vol.269, No.21, pgs. 2765-2768.
- Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's New Research and Development Database, www.phrma.org/webdb/phrmawdb.html.