“Baby shots” used to be a boring subject, and taken for granted. As the number of vaccines grew from seven in the 1980s to 16 requiring 70 doses now, most parents obediently brought their children to the doctor when shots were “due.” The compliance rate was more than 90 percent. Parents who objected for one reason or another just got an exemption from school-attendance mandates and kept quiet. Every state had a medical exemption, most had a religious exemption, and many had easily obtained philosophical or personal-belief exemptions.
Now that states are repealing exemptions, parents are descending on state capitals en masse, many with severely injured children in tow. Thousands rallied outside an Albany courthouse as a lawsuit challenging an end to religious exemptions was heard.
Despite vociferous objections and attempts to disrupt hearings, the California legislature passed a law (SB 276) severely limiting medical exemptions, the only kind available. “Rogue doctors” were allegedly selling exemptions.
The bill’s author, Sen. Richard Pan, M.D., said that everybody who really needed an exemption would get one. However, 882 out of 882 pediatric practices told a mother that they would not write an exemption for a child who had had anaphylactic shock. This life-threatening allergic reaction, which kills rapidly by closing off the airway, is one of the few allowable indications for an exemption. But now, a parent not willing to risk recurrence cannot send her child to school.
Doctors are no doubt afraid of being targeted by the medical licensure board. SB 276 mandates scrutiny of doctors who have issued more than five exemptions, including exemptions made before the bill takes effect.
Parents are besieging legislators with reports of children who died or experienced devastating illnesses or disability after getting their shots. Interchanges on Twitter are passionate. One juxtaposed a sign saying “Vaccinate your f****** children” with a photograph of a gravestone and the message “We did.”
Whatever happened to hundreds of once-healthy children—it’s impossible to prove that the shot did it—the public-health dogma is: “Vaccines are safe and effective.” So safe and so effective that vaccines should be the exception to the rule that medical interventions are illegal and unethical without informed consent?
Two articles in the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons challenge the orthodoxy that vaccines should be mandated, overriding patients’ liberties in an effort to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases.
How much risk can a person be compelled to take, even to save the life of another? In other contexts, such as exposure to radiation or lead, a risk of 1 in 10,000 or even less is considered unacceptable. Yet a much higher risk from vaccines cannot be ruled out. According to the most current information available, only 1 percent of serious side effects (such as death or permanent disability) are likely reported to the government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
The 1905 Supreme Court precedent for upholding mandates, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, concerned a raging, deadly smallpox epidemic. Later courts have ignored warnings about the potential abuse of state police power, and permitted mandates to prevent possible future epidemics of much milder diseases. Now, a measles outbreak of some 1,200 cases—thankfully no deaths so far—has triggered the demand for stricter laws, suppression of “anti-vaxxer” information, and harsh measures including $1,000 fines for refusing vaccination in Brooklyn.
Even if at least a few of the tragedies are caused by a vaccine, isn’t it worth it to wipe out dread diseases?
In the 20th century, mankind seemed to be winning the war on microbes. Smallpox was eradicated, and antibiotics were vanquishing infectious diseases. The growing threat of microbial resistance has caused senior public health officials in the UK and the U.S. to be concerned about the “post-antibiotic apocalypse” and the “end of modern medicine.” Dr. Andrew Wakefield asks, “Are vaccines destined for a similar fate?”
According to Dr. Wakefield, the “return of measles” is not the fault of anti-vaccinationists, but results from vaccine failure and “escape mutants”—viruses that elude vaccine immunity, the predictable outcome of selection pressures. Meanwhile, the toll of autoimmune diseases and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism continues to soar relentlessly—without explanation.
Parental outrage might cause reexamination of vaccine orthodoxy. It also raises the question of where to draw the line against encroachment of our freedom.
Jane M. Orient, M.D. has been in solo private practice since 1981 and has served as Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) since 1989. She is currently president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness and managing editor of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Reach her at [email protected]