Published March 9, 2017
In March 2015, science teacher Timothy Sullivan approached public health nurses administering vaccines to high school students at his school...
— William Wilberforce
In the midst of growing public opposition to efforts by pharmaceutical and medical trade lobbyists to persuade state legislators to eliminate all non-medical exemptions from vaccine laws, a group of doctors in Seattle, WA have published an article in the March 2016 edition of the journal Pediatrics that ostensibly supports more flexible religious and conscientious belief exemptions for parents opting out of vaccinations for their children, but it comes with a caveat.1
The caveat in their proposal is that parents would be able to obtain non-medical vaccine exemptions for every government recommended vaccine—except for measles vaccine. Measles vaccine, which only is available in the combination MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) shot would be the one “no exceptions” vaccine and, understandably, parents are questioning what that is all about.
The authors of the paper—which include Douglas Opel, MD, Matthew Kronman, MD, Douglas Diekema, MD, Edgar Marcuse, MD, Jeffrey Duchin and Eric Kodish, MD—note in their article that eliminating non-medical exemptions (NMEs) for all vaccines are “scientifically and ethically problematic.” They argue for an exemption policy that “eliminates NMEs just for the measles vaccine” and that mandatory MMR vaccination be “pursued only after other less restrictive approaches have been implemented and deemed unsuccessful.”1
According to an article in The Seattle Times, the physicians acknowledge that, while the push for more restrictive vaccination laws may be “well-meaning,” it “infringes on personal liberty” and “doesn’t work.” 2 The Times quotes Dr. Opel:
We’re realizing that it’s not a scientific and ethical approach. This is less about letting parents choose than about developing sound, sustainable policy.2
Vaccine law in the state of Washington already allows for medical, religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions, including for MMR vaccine.3 So, while the proposal by the doctors at first appears to support more freedom for parents in Washington to make voluntary vaccination decisions for their children, it doesn’t give parents anything they don’t already have. In fact, it would give them less freedom because it would eliminate NMEs when it comes to measles vaccine (MMR). The proposal could be interpreted as an attempt to effectively chip away at medical informed consent rights in that state under the guise of a less restrictive vaccination public policy.
Of course, the state of Washington already allows for medical, religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions for childhood diseases, including measles.3 So, while the proposal by the doctors at first appears to support more freedom for parents in Washington with regard to vaccines, it doesn’t give them anything they don’t already have. In fact, it would give them less freedom because it would eliminate NMEs when it comes to measles. The proposal seeks to effectively chip away at medical informed consent rights in that state under the clever guise of a less restrictive vaccination public policy.
On the positive side, the doctors appear to be opposed to forced vaccination. Their proposal reinforces the fact that the informed consent is primarily one of fundamental human rights, and that sacrificing liberty and having a government vaccination policy that is sustainable are incompatible.References:
1 Opel DJ, Kronman MP, Diekema DS, Marcuse EK, Duchin JS, Kodish E. Childhood Vaccine Exemption Policy: The Case for a Less Restrictive Alternative. Pediatrics March 2016.
2 Aleccia J. Seattle doctors buck trend, want to allow vaccine opt-outs—except for measles. The Seattle Times Mar. 17, 2016.
3 National Vaccine Information Center. Washington State Vaccine Requirements. NVIC.org Jan. 22, 2016.