In June, New York eliminated the religious exemption for all vaccines. Sparking the debate was the worst measles outbreak this country has seen in two decades.
Let’s be honest about vaccine injuries
Where there is risk there must be choice. Moreover, the current tone of the vaccine debate shuts down an unbiased evaluation of risk.
From a cultural perspective vaccine injuries have become stigmatized and the derogatory title of “anti-vaxxer” has been liberally applied to anyone who advocates for vaccine safety. From a scientific perspective there are no long-term, randomized, placebo-controlled studies or clinical trials. Vaccines are tested against other vaccines or adjuvant cocktails, and safety studies are performed in retrospect on highly vaccinated children, rather than comparing vaccinated to unvaccinated groups.
Public opinion is being driven by a dogmatic assertion that injuries are “one in a million,” yet the legislative record from The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 states that “about 0.5% of children each year experience vaccine-related injury; and with four million births each year in the United States, this is about 20,000 vaccine injuries per year.” Since 1986, however, injuries have become increasingly unrecognized.
The source of vaccine policy, the CDC, prioritizes vaccination rates over protecting vulnerable children, recognizing essentially two types of medical exemptions: if a child nearly dies from a previous vaccine or severe immunodeficiency. An allergic reaction, brain inflammation, seizures, or any other severe reactions that are not near death do not qualify. In addition, the growing field of epigenetics may be potentially used to identify children vulnerable to injury, yet this research isn’t pursued.
Current legislative efforts to mandate the measles vaccine in the United States are based on annual outbreaks of a few hundred people. While the current MMR vaccination rates have remained steady for decades, children are suffering in much greater numbers from other deadlier and preventable causes, which do not attract the same media attention and therefore are not deemed as important to address.
We know vaccines injuries occur, but cannot evaluate the true risk without more robust science. In this context informed consent rather than coercion is essential. Ultimately, a successful vaccine program should be grounded in public trust in the healthcare system, which can be achieved through open conversation, transparency, independent research, and restoration of checks and balances.
Rockland County accupuncturist Elaina Leifer has has worked in healthcare data analysis and consulting, and is pursuing her doctorate.
‘Religious exemption’ is a dangerous farse
With the outbreak’s epicenter in densely populated Rockland County, most of the Senate district that I represent is disproportionately at risk. In particular, babies who are not yet mature enough to receive vaccines and adults with compromised immune systems, such as individuals undergoing chemotherapy, are at exceptionally high risk. No Hudson Valley parents should have to worry about taking their child shopping or to the park out of fear of contracting measles. The present situation is an outrage and lawmakers must act.
New York state permits a so-called “religious exemption” for vaccines. This allows some individuals and groups to pretend there are genuine religious reasons to opt out when, in fact, every religion from Christianity to Islam to Judaism to Scientology has no issues whatsoever with immunization. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses, who previously denounced vaccines, revised their doctrine in 1952 and now promote immunization. With over 600 cases of measles in New York—the most in the nation—and counting, the time is now to end the state’s nonsensical and dangerous religious exemption.
I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment. I draw a line in the sand, however, when someone’s self-professed First Amendment rights endanger their own children and, importantly, other families’ children. I’ve heard vaccine opponents throw around the bumper sticker slogan “My child, My choice.” Putting aside the inherent dangers for your own child, let’s make a deal: it’s your choice if you agree to keep your unvaccinated child far away from everyone else’s children.
I’m co-sponsoring legislation to end the religious exemption. I don’t care what the political repercussions are: the Hudson Valley faces a public health crisis and I am not going to sit idly by. Vaccines save lives, and unless there is a legitimate medical reason someone can’t be vaccinated, immunizations ought to be required if that individual wants to be in the public and interact with others.
While I recognize that some individuals have good-faith concerns about vaccines, there comes a point where we must follow the scientific consensus and ensure the public’s health is protected. It’s time to take immediate action on behalf of our state’s children.
NY State Senator James Skoufis represents the 39th Senate District, which includes parts of Orange, Ulster and Rockland counties.