Vaccines, Parent's Rights and HPV

When Lisa Kneen's son Caleb was five, his father took him to the emergency room at Spruce Pine Hospital to be treated for an injury he received while riding his bicycle. After he and his father returned to their home in Bakersville, N.C., a lady from the Department of Social Services knocked on their door. Something about the visit did not feel right to Kneen. "I didn’t want to let her in," Kneen said, "but she said she had the right." So she let her in.

A nurse at the ER had noticed that Caleb had not received all of his shots and notified social services.

The Kneen family is one of many families across the United States who opt their children out from getting certain shots like the measles-mumps-rubella-vaccine, or the human papilloma virus [HPV] vaccine. Some families reject vaccinations for health concerns, others have religious reasons.

Currently, families in Virginia who share similar views with that of the Kneen family are forced to go through a lengthy process to opt their children out of receiving the HPV vaccine. Virginia law requires girls to receive the HPV vaccine before the sixth grade to prevent cervical cancer. House Bill 1121, recently introduced by Delegate Kathy J. Byron to the Virginia General Assembly, would have repealed the mandatory HPV vaccine in Virginia. However, CBS reports that it was tabled yesterday until next year’s General Assembly Session by the Senate.

Mandatory vaccinations are a controversial issue, especially among state legislatures. The National Conference of State Legislatures [NCSL] reports that since 2007, Washington, D.C. and at least 41 states have proposed legislation regarding the HPV vaccine. Some legislation required mandatory school vaccinations. However, the NCSL also reports that as of 2011, 20 states have some type of philosophical exemption law that allows people to opt-out.

That philosophical exemption law, or an opt-out of the mandatory vaccination, is often used when families are skeptical of the ingredients and preservatives in vaccines and when they believe there might be a possible connection between vaccines and autism.

Donna Clearman, an independent dietary consultant from Anoka, Minn., said that she does have some health concerns about vaccinations for young infants. "Infants who are breast-fed have an automatic immunity conferred to them through the breast milk and are not in need of vaccinations for at least six months," she said. "The additives and preservatives in vaccination are foreign substances that stress the infant’s immature system."

Clearman believes that individuals should have the right to decide what is best for themselves and their children. "I think breast-fed infants of healthy mothers should be exempt from vaccinations," she said.

Vicki Goodwin, a home-schooling mother from Flagstaff, Arizona, also has concerns about vaccinating her children. After her oldest daughter Kristin had an adverse skin reaction and started screaming upon getting her second polio vaccination, Goodwin did not continue with the other vaccinations. "After this, I decided I wasn’t going to do this again," she said. "I didn’t know how it would affect my future children."

Instead, Goodwin began to research other options and used homeopathic medicines to attempt to build up her daughters’ immune systems. Vaccination ingredients like mercury also caused Goodwin to question its use. She does not believe the government should mandate vaccines. "I think it should be a parental choice," she said. "It should be a family matter."

Many families have concerns about vaccines, but previous concerns about a connection with autism may not be accurate, according to an article published in the Science Insider. Recent consensus in the scientific community shows that there may not be a connection between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism.

Gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, formerly working at a hospital in the United Kingdom, published an article in 2008 linking the vaccine with autism and bowel disease. However, in 2012, the British General Medical Council convicted Wakefield of four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts of endangering children.

Dr. Kim Vore, a Family Practitioner from Washington, Pa., said there is a lot of misinformation about the risk of vaccine. "Vaccines have reduced the number of incidents of disease," she said. "There’s a decrease in the number of people dying and serious side effects…a lot of people are not aware about improved vaccines."

Vore thinks that if there is a public health menace, then some vaccines should be mandatory. However, there should be exceptions if someone had a previous allergic reaction to certain components within the vaccine.

Vore does have some concern about the state passing the laws that would mandate vaccines. Because the vaccines are constantly being looked at, she said, there needs to be some flexibility if science says the vaccine is no longer necessary. "Laws are not always flexible," she said.

Dr. Alan Morrison, an infectious disease physician leader at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, said that there is a stronger chance that infants are developing autism because women are having babies later on life, rather than getting it from vaccines. "Biology is not as forgiving," he said.

Morrison said there are no vaccines that have zero risk, but incidences of complications are extremely rare. He said in metropolitan areas, where there are some cases of unusual infectious diseases when foreign born residents come to live or visit, the "Instances are great reminders why we’re doing what we’re doing."

Health concerns about vaccines are prevalent among parents who opt-out of the mandatory vaccines, but they have other concerns as well. Professor Lynne Marie Kohm, Professor of Family Law at Regent University said, "Some vaccines are clearly wise and wanted by parents, such as those that have protected children from life-threatening contagious diseases."

She said, however, that when those requests become mandates that assume "self-destructive behavior like drug use and child sexual activity…the government is presuming that parents are no longer wise enough to provide for their children’s best interest."

"My position has always been that this vaccine is overreach on state action into private family matters constitutionally protecting the fundamental rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their own children," Kohm said.

Sheri Craft, from San Antonio, Texas and a mother of 11, said that the government has no authority to force anyone to get vaccinated. "One might argue that they have the duty to protect us from making a ‘bad’ choice and getting a disease if we don’t get vaccinated," she said. "But, that is going beyond the scope of their responsibility. That choice is up to each one of us."

This thoughtful post is from guest blogger Kaitlyn Speer, who is an intern at World Virginia, and a student at Patrick Henry College.

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