Being a physician and a father, I keep an eye out for news about childhood vaccinations. I’ve always been concerned about local statutes that allow kids to be admitted to school unvaccinated, especially when all that is required is an affirmation or a letter from a doctor or religious figure. This not only endangers these individual children but also others. As the rates of vaccination drop vaccine-preventable diseases regain a foothold. Children and adults who are either ineligible for vaccination or in whom vaccination was not completely effective can become ill. Parents can, of course, do nearly whatever they want, even when it borders on abusive, as vaccine refusal does, but they should not have the right to endanger others.
This is why I was heartened to see this piece out of Pittsburgh. The three Jewish day schools in the area decided to mandate strict vaccination policies for their students. Private schools have often provided a refuge for anti-vaccination parents, and probably always will, but at least one set of schools won’t tolerate such narishkeit. According to the The Jewish Chronicle:
The new standards were set forth in a letter from the physicians to area Jewish schools last spring. They proposed that vaccination — with certain medical exceptions — should be mandated by Jewish schools as “an active step toward … fulfilling the mitzvah to preserve health.”
Physicians took action and helped the community make a change for the better. The local religious authorities then took on the issue and decided that from a religious perspective, vaccination, given the evidence, is also an individual and community obligation. They based this not just on scripture but on the scientific data presented and on fact that vaccinations rates in a community as a whole go up when schools mandate vaccination. The decision is especially heartening given the news of the mumps outbreak in an Orthodox Jewish community in New York.
Because it’s hard for a family to find a physician to provide a medical exemption, Loe Fisher said, many must rely on the religious or philosophical exemption, available in almost all states, to avoid vaccination. She is not in favor of a private school refusing to accept those exemptions which are provided for by state law. “It is questionable for a school to narrow those exemptions and not allow a parent who believes a child is at risk to take an exemption,” Loe Fisher said.
I wonder why it’s so hard to find a doctor to provide a vaccine excuse? Perhaps because doctors know a bit more about public health than “a parent who believes a child is at risk”? This is a private school and if they want to mandate improved public health measures above and beyond the inadequate state rules, why should Fisher care?