I FOUGHT THE LAW…
In the United States today, patients’ and parents’ rights on mandatory vaccination varies from state to state. All 50 states offer exemptions on one of at least three grounds—medical, religious or philosophical. In New York, exemption is based purely on medical or religious grounds.
“Immunization requirements shall not apply to children whose parent, parents, or guardian hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to the practices herein required,” states New York law.
In some states a signed letter is all that is needed, but in New York, if parents want a religious exemption, a sincerity hearing is required.
“It is not sufficient merely that the beliefs that they assert as grounds for exemption be religious in nature,” the law continues. “It must also be demonstrated that the espoused beliefs are sincerely held.”
In other words, you can’t change religions just to escape immunization laws in New York State.
Sherr v. Northport-East Northport Union Free School District was a 1986 case brought by Alan Sherr, a Long Island doctor who didn’t want to immunize his kids. Sherr now runs the holistic health care practice, Northport Wellness Center.
“I tried to create an opportunity to not vaccinate my kids,” Sherr told the Press in 2009. Sherr’s anti-vaccination stance was grounded in his scientific and medical background and beliefs. At that time there was no religious sincerity exemption; a parent had to belong to a recognized religious group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientists. Sherr decided to join a “mail order” religious group, the Missionary Temple at Large, Universal Religious Brotherhood. The school district didn’t buy it and neither did the court. Their request for exemption was denied.
“Although the Sherrs’ voiced resistance to vaccination is no doubt sincere, their claims of a sincerely religious basis for their objections to inoculation are not credible,” stated the judge.
But the Sherrs’ fight did change the law. The court found that New York’s limitation of the religious exemptions “violated both the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.” The law was changed to a third option: religious sincerity—it doesn’t matter what religion you practice, if it is recognized or not, as long as you are sincere in your beliefs.
Why all the trouble? Why not let those who want their children vaccinated be vaccinated—and those who don’t face the consequences?
It’s not so simple, says the medical community.
“When a large percentage of a population is vaccinated against a pathogen, the entire community—both those vaccinated and unvaccinated—receive additional protection,” states Ben Kleifgen, Temple University School of Medicine and Justin Silpe, University of Michigan, both contributors on VaccineEthics.org. “This concept, known as ‘herd immunity,’ is a primary justification for mandatory vaccination policies in the United States.”
This means that an unvaccinated child can not only get sick, but she can infect a vaccinated child, with a deadly disease, or act as a carrier.
In fact, just this week on Long Island, 13 children in the Smithtown school district were said to be infected with pertussis or whooping cough.
Health officials said June 21 that all 13 had been vaccinated against the disease and therefore had milder cases (no vaccine is 100 percent effective).
Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes an uncontrollable, violent cough lasting several weeks or even months.
“The most effective control measure is maintaining the highest possible level of immunization in the community,” says Dr. Kathy Thompson, director of Communicable Diseases for Suffolk County.
Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken says whooping cough has become more common in recent years.
“While most individuals will recover fully from pertussis, we are concerned about infants who have not received full immunization and to whom pertussis is particularly dangerous and can be fatal,” he says.
For those on the pro-vaccination side, this kind of herd immunity is one more substantial reason why immunization is necessary. Besides, in 2010, Dr. Wakefield, who produced the most influential study connecting autism and vaccination turned out to be a fabricated hoaxer, didn’t he?