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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Does your "personal freedom" entitle you to endanger public health?

In New Jersey and Nationwide, Battles Over Vaccinations Continue
By Michael Schulson

Image result for vaccination saves livesPublic health advocates in New Jersey experienced a setback on January 13, as the State Senate failed to vote to end a policy that allows parents to send their kids to school unvaccinated if they object to vaccination on religious grounds.

The original form of the bill, which passed the State Assembly, would have applied to children attending any private or public school in New Jersey. 

The modified Senate version had limited the scope to public schools, but it still failed under pressure from hundreds of anti-vaccination protestors who gathered around the Statehouse in Trenton, as well as advocates worried that the policy would violate religious liberty protections.

The debate in New Jersey comes at a time of growing national concern about declining vaccination rates in many states. In New Jersey, according to state data, the parents of nearly 14,000 students claimed religious exemptions last year. The number has been climbing. 

New York passed new legislation last year blocking religious exemptions to vaccination, bringing the total of states that do so to just five.

Anti-vaccination arguments remain influential in the United States, despite the clear scientific consensus that immunizations are safe, effective, and critical for public health. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Charlestown's local General Assembly members - Sen. Elaine Morgan, Rep. Blake "Flip" Filippi and Richmond's Rep. Justin Price - are lead defenders of "choice" for vaccinations. Because of irresponsible legislators like them, diseases we had once thought dead (e.g. measles, mumps) are making a comeback. It was mandatory vaccination that ended smallpox and polio. HPV vaccine could end several forms of cancer. To pander to anti-vax kooks is nothing less than criminal.   - Will Collette

The results of widespread opt-outs can be grim: Last year, a measles outbreak in the New York City area infected hundreds of children. Overseas, a recent measles epidemic in Samoa, where vaccination rates had plunged, killed at least 80 people, leading the country’s government to declare a state of emergency.

New Jersey lawmakers have vowed to bring up the bill again soon. And as 2020 legislative sessions gear up across the country, lawmakers in other states will be weighing religious freedom claims against the needs of public health.

In Connecticut, lawmakers plan to propose a similar bill ending religious exemptions for vaccinations. 

Meanwhile, in Idaho, advocates gathered in Boise on Thursday to discuss plans to once again challenge the state’s famously lax medical exemption laws, which grant parents broad latitude to refuse lifesaving medical care for children on religious grounds. 

And this week in Washington state, legislators reintroduced bills that aim to amend a state law that exempts Christian Scientists, who often refuse medical care, from having to provide medical care to critically ill children.

Debates like that in New Jersey bring up thorny questions of the balance between personal liberties and the public good: When does public safety override the rights of parents? How far can the state go in compelling medical care for vulnerable kids?

“I’m not going to take away people’s rights even though I would make a different decision in the place of many of these people,” one Republican New Jersey lawmaker said during hearings last month. “It’s their right to be wrong. It’s their right to follow their own conscience.”

For others, those arguments don’t go far enough. “This bill,” the head of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics told lawmakers, “is about keeping our schools safe.”

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.