Letters to the Editor 2019

To the Editor: 

Sen. Michael Testa wrote, in the Jan. 29 Herald, that he was proud to report the defeat of S-2173. He framed his opinion in terms of religious freedoms and constitutional rights, stating, “The invasive bill (S2173) would have eliminated parental religious freedoms to decline vaccinations for their schoolchildren.”

By doing so, his opinion piece oversimplifies two essential points: 

According to the most recent summary of the bill (http://bit.ly/2ODXsrE), it would have required parents to "document that the administration of a vaccine conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices of a student…”

The bill would not have eliminated parental religious freedoms to decline vaccinations, as Testa stated, but it would have required strong reasons for declining. 

The main issues at hand; however, which Testa did not address, are public health and safety, and the ethics of responsibility rather than simply issues of religious freedom and constitutional rights. 

The ethics of this conflict are more complex than how Testa represented them. For example, when does personal interest - for religious beliefs or for any other reason - override the interest of the public’s health and safety?

By declining vaccination for children in one family, those parents increase the risks of transmitting serious diseases to others, particularly other children in a group setting, like public schools, or daycare. If your child contracts a preventable disease from an unvaccinated person, does that not carry the same weight in terms of violating your rights? 

This is not an easy question to answer. Balancing an individual’s or a family’s rights to self-determination in such situations requires thoughtful consideration and dialogue, rather than political posturing and oversimplification.

Opposition to vaccines is not new, and well-intentioned parents and others frequently cite the risks involved with vaccination. Often, these risks are unfounded and/or over exaggerated, especially today, where easy access to inaccurate information is readily available via the internet and/or social media. 

While no medical treatment is risk-free, current research supports weighing any risks against the known benefits of treatment. It is well documented that the benefits of vaccination against diseases, like measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and so on far outweigh the small risks involved, to both the vaccinated child and to others. 

I wish that Testa had examined the evidence regarding childhood vaccinations, rather than framing this as government intrusion on religious freedom and constitutional rights. He may not have done due diligence before espousing his opinion, but you can. 

Learn how to make the best decisions for your family based on evidence. You can visit reliable sites for current scientific information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Read the facts about the safety of childhood immunizations at http://bit.ly/2ugutDj.