No Shot No School

On our way back from Inverness on Sunday we passed a huge banner hanging from a public school in a small town near San Rafael: NO SHOT NO SCHOOL.

California has a new requirement that all students entering 7th through 12th grade get the TDaP vaccine in order to attend public school. According to the State of California, the new immunization requirement is “intended to reduce the spread of whooping cough in California. In recent years the United States has seen an increase in whooping cough. In 2010, California had the most cases of whooping cough reported in over 60 years.”

Yesterday a study was published in the peer-reviewed Pediatrics that suggests that 1 in 10 of the 748 American parents surveyed is not following the recommended vaccine schedule. Seventeen percent of those parents refused all vaccines. (N.B.: Since only 61 percent of parents surveyed responded and since people often don’t tell the truth on surveys and since we can hypothesize that many of the parents who did not respond are those deviating from the vaccine schedule, the percentage of parents not following the CDC schedule is probably much much higher.)

This study was all over the media, with “expert” doctors weighing in about how “frustrating it is” that parents don’t do exactly what they tell them. These experts contend that the scientific studies “prove” that vaccines are safe and effective. The conclusions drawn from the study are that public health officials need to better communicate their message to the public.

Rewind.

Why are the most educated parents the ones who are delaying or skipping vaccines?

Why are parents who read the science realizing that the science does not “prove” vaccines are safe?

Why are there no scientific studies being done with a statistically significant control group of unvaccinated children, despite the fact that there are thousands–if not hundreds of thousands–of entirely unvaccinated children in America today?

Why do so many countries with better infant health and much lower infant mortality rates follow a different, much less aggressive vaccine schedule?

Why is the American government, which prides itself on being free and fair, using Soviet-style methods to force parents to vaccinate their children?

Shari Becker, a 39-year-old mother of two who lives in the Boston Area, has been asking herself these questions.

Like so many parents in America, she’s pro-vaccine but concerned. Shari is concerned that the current schedule is not based on what’s in the best interest of her daughters (ages almost 6 and 8 1/2).

After doing a lot of research, talking to several doctors, and discussing it with her husband, Shari decided not to vaccinate her younger daughter against chicken pox.

Last week that decision came back to bite her when a frantic school nurse called her on a Friday afternoon and told her her daughter must either be vaccinated or withdrawn from the school for two weeks

Here’s Shari’s story:

I had decided I wasn’t going to vaccinate my younger daughter with chicken pox until she was older if she hadn’t caught the virus.

The more I thought about it, the more I disagreed with the chicken pox vaccine recommendations.

It seemed ridiculous to me that we would give young children a vaccine for a disease that is mostly benign in childhood and have immunity begin to wane when they are adults and the disease is most dangerous to them.

In fact, I’d vaccinated my older daughter when she was much younger and in a daycare, and now regret it.

I was purposely not giving her the booster hoping my younger one might catch the pox and then they could both be exposed naturally.

To be perfectly clear, I think there is a time and place for vaccines. When we discovered that my husband had never had chicken pox as a child, we decided together that he should get the vaccine as an adult. And he did in his late 30s.

I was in the middle of my Rosh Hashana celebration on Friday late morning when my cell phone began to ring over and over and over again.

At first I ignored it – it was a holiday, and I was with my whole family, so it couldn’t have been an emergency. But the ringing didn’t stop. It was the school nurse telling me there had been a case of chicken pox in my younger daughter’s kindergarten class. If she wasn’t vaccinated by the next day (Saturday), she could not come to school for the two-week period when she might get sick.

She explained she just learned about the case, and there is a 72-hour rule from exposure to vaccination. I tried to ask logical questions like, how do we know she wasn’t exposed Tuesday? Or what if the kid was contagious on Monday? What’s the point of the vaccine then? The nurse wouldn’t tell me anything, and she just kept repeating the 72-hour “exposure” rule.

She seemed oblivious to the fact that my daughter could have exposed far more than 72 hours beforehand.

I was horrified. I was literally with my rabbi and other people who were praying, and I had to start frantically calling my doctor’s office. I knew that I had to make a decision before 4:30 p.m. when the office closed.

I called my doctor’s office, and they suggested that I call the school and talk to the teacher.

Our goal was to find out whether or not my daughter had actually been exposed to the virus.

Apparently, it is harder to catch chicken pox than one would think. A child actually needs to cough or sneeze on another child. You don’t get chicken pox from being in the same room or from holding hands or from sitting next to each other. If she had been exposed, the doctor and I decided that we would not vaccinate. I would keep her home and see if she got sick. The teacher talked to all the staff who had been with our daughter earlier in the week, and she had almost no contact with the sick child.

So now what? She wasn’t exposed. She was not a risk. She wasn’t going to pass on the virus. But if I didn’t vaccinate I had to keep a “perfectly healthy not even properly adjusted to her new school yet” kindergartner home for two weeks.

If I did vaccinate, I lost my chance at her building natural immunities, and frankly I had to inject her with all the other chemicals and additives I have come to be cautious about.

Time was ticking away.

My husband and I felt like we had no options.

No one was going to make us vaccinate, but they weren’t going to let us come to school for two weeks.

We couldn’t do that to her. She would have to re-adjust to kindergarten all over again.

Our doctor’s office supported our point of view, but said our hands were tied. They explained that, sadly, our daughter’s odds of catching chicken pox in our community, on her own, were incredibly slim. The few cases that pop up are from new immigrants and religious groups. These few folks are interspersed in a community that boasts 98% of all students and staff in our public schools are fully vaccinated. The odds were, the doctor’s office said, that we were going to have to give her the vaccine later in life anyhow.

Still, it seemed to me that this should have been my choice. That chicken pox is not polio or diptheria or even the measles. It’s chicken pox, and it’s unpleasant and itchy, but it poses no national health threat.

When I actually brought in my forms today saying that we had gotten the vaccine, the nurse informed us we needed a booster within three months.

When I said, “That’s not true, I know for a fact you only need one vaccine by state law to go to kindergarten,” she replied. “Not anymore, as of 2011, the state requires two shots of chicken pox before kindergarten.”

There’s no way I’m doing that … until there’s another case of chicken pox in the school, I guess.

Are you following the CDC schedule or are you devising your own? Do you think we should vaccinate against a sexually transmitted disease at birth (hepatitis B), which no Scandinavian country administers in the absence of medical indication, and against a benign and routine childhood illness (chicken pox)? Do you worry about the possible long-term damage this onslaught of vaccines might have on your child’s developing immune system? Would you like to see some scientific studies done with a large control group of unvaccinated children?

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Comments

  1. Mike Green

    The most fascinating part of this story was the juxtaposition between the school’s position and the parent’s. The school’s robotic entranced adherence to a political mandate was set against the parents’ robotic self-imposed mandate that prioritized kindergarten participation at that moment in time to such a degree that they were willing to go against their better judgment in their child’s health care to accommodate the timeliness of acclimating her to a social construct.

    Wow.

    I understand the rote reaction of the school employee robots. I do not understand the frantic decision-making process of the parents.

    If it’s me, I hang up on the school, keep my kid home for the mandated time period and enjoy every moment. Perhaps I would use the time to develop innovative ways of acclimating my child to the upcoming foreign environment that for some reason is so important to the parents in your story that they felt compelled to give her a vaccination against their better judgment.

    I am constantly amazed at the level of importance parents place on mythical social constructs.

    My take.

    Mike

    • Thanks for this interesting perspective Mike. I think the parents were concerned that their daughter, just adjusting to kindergarden, would have a very hard time being taken out of school. So maybe it wasn’t as much about not wanting to buck the education system as it was about feeling like yanking a brand new kindergartener wasn’t in her best interests?

  2. School nurses have a great place and a great responsibility, but unfortunately they seem quite prone to panic as well. I agree with Shari (who, by the way, was in my class when I got chicken pox as a kid) that chicken pox are much better lived through as a child than as an adult. if the nurse made this decision unilaterally I would appeal to a doctor, but more importantly I would take my son over to the sick kid’s house for a play date… especially since it seems he would have to be off school anyways, he might as well get over the (as Shari states) relatively benign illness while it is just that.

    I respect school nurses… but unless they are also Nurse Practitioners, they should not have the power to make such unilateral decisions.
    Mitch Garvis recently posted…Year 6My Profile

  3. Myra lou

    The schools in our county also have a 2 week rule for un-vaccinated kids. They ask the un-vaccinated children to stay home for two weeks while a “vaccine preventable” disease is going around.

    While this would be disruptive to the child and the family, I think the decisions we make about our family’s health should trump our worries about school attendance.

    Thanks for this article Jennifer!

  4. Debbie

    Just a comment on whooping cough. A go-getter friend in NJ – an OB/GYN – got whooping cough this year, and has been coughing so hard for 6+ months that she eventually quit her job because the coughing was so bad (the job stress made it worse). I’ve seen her a bit recently – she’s always coughing and it makes her feel awful. I can’t help thinking that if more people had gotten the vaccine, perhaps she wouldn’t be in this position.

    • Thanks for this comment Debbie. As your poor friend has been experiencing firsthand, whooping cough can be really awful — for adults but, especially, for infants under six months of age.

      Another friend just told me that her friend’s niece in Washington, who was a month old, died of whooping cough recently. Which just seems so sad and unfair.

      But I am wondering if the most effective way to stop people from getting whooping cough is really for CHILDREN UNDER FIVE to be getting the vaccine? Since it is SCHOOL-AGED children who are usually the disease vectors, doesn’t it make the most sense to vaccinate every child at that age? Since the majority of people who are getting and spreading the disease are fully vaccinated according to CDC guidelines, it seems that the vaccine-induced immunity (or partial immunity) is wearing off too soon.

      In addition to the 7th-12th graders, shouldn’t adults who work in health care and teachers and parents (like you and me) also be the ones getting boosters for this vaccine?

      A mom in our town had an infant who got whooping cough. If I’m remembering the story correctly, his doctor did not recognize it because the baby didn’t have the characteristic whoop. The doctor made light of her concerns, and sent the very worried mom home. Her son ended up in the emergency room and was terribly sick. But he got it from his completely vaccinated older sister, whose friends are all also vaccinated.

      We know that the vaccine efficacy is not optimal with pertussis. When they were still using a whole-cell vaccine it was also one of our most dangerous vaccines. I just finished the book, “A SHOT IN THE DARK: Why the P in the DPT vaccine may be hazardous to your child’s health,” which documents hundreds of cases of terrible vaccine reactions, including brain damage and death, from the whole-cell version.

      All of this tells me that we have to find other ways to boost a baby’s immune system. Encouraging and supporting breastfeeding is one. The science shows that exclusive and extensive breastfeeding, more than vaccination or even clean water, is associated with a decline in infant mortality and an increase in optimal health.

      Yet the United States is the only industrialized country that refuses to limit the marketing of artificial milk substances to pregnant women and new moms. Formula companies write breast feeding manuals in this country. Doctors and nurses actually push formula on moms in the hospital. (In other countries that have much higher breastfeeding rates and much better infant and adult health, formula companies are forbidden from marketing to moms. In our country doctors give breastfeeding prize bags that contains formula samples at a 6-week post partum visits and advertise for pediatrics with refrigerator magnets printed and paid for by formula manufacturers.)

      I’d like to see our federal government, and every state, put as many resources into promoting and supporting breastfeeding as they are currently putting into maintaining the current vaccine schedule.

  5. Lynn Barton

    I think the greater question is whether parents should entrust their children to a education system that has become so authoritarian. There is a bill currently on Jerry Brown’s desk that, if he signs it, would allow children in California to consent to a Gardasil injection without their parents’ consent or even knowledge. I know many parents cannot pull their children out of school, but all those who can, should. It’s not safe for them. There is on line schooling, private home schooling, private school…so many options. If enough parents rebel and pull their kids out, government rulers (for that is what they have become) will have to change. Until then, it’s open season on kids and too bad so sad for parents. Get ’em out.

  6. judy

    I just returned from a visit to my new doctor. I realized as I was sitting waiting for him that I was increasingly anxious about the impending conversation we were bound to have about my getting the flu shot. I knew I wouldn’t get one, but assumed he wouldn’t want to know why and that he’d insist I should. What a way to start a relationship! As it turned out, that didn’t happen. But I came back to office and read this article. This whole topic of vaccinations is so confusing and unexplored. Thank you, Jennifer, for keeping the dialogue out in the open. It doesn’t effect only children. Adults live with the dilemmas too. And the pedantic way its dealt with in the culture is really upsetting.

  7. Natalie

    Jennifer I’d love to know what your personal vaccine schedule is/would be. What would you do when, and which would you leave off entirely? Or whose schedule do you agree with?

    • I’ve been thinking about how best to answer this question, Natalie, without writing an entire book about the subject or making your eyes cross with too long an answer. Hence the two day silence. I don’t know if you read my 5000 word article in Mothering Magazine. Here’s a link to part of it (I think you have to pay for the entire article. I could send you a Word version of it if you don’t have it and feel that would be helpful): http://www.motheringshop.com/product-p/digreprint-vaccdebate.htm. In it I explain both my evolution of thinking and the decisions we made for our children. But my kids are vaccinated against diseases most Americans have not heard of (yellow fever, for example) because we lived in Niger, West Africa, where there was a different set of risk considerations.

      If I were living in the United States and exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months to a year, and I was not taking my baby overseas, I would make very different choices. But this also depends on childcare. If I were putting my kids in daycare, I might make different decisions. But if my children were home with me and socializing in a limited way with older children, I would delay vaccines as long as I could (in the absence of risk, like an outbreak of some kind) and try not to do any before my baby’s third birthday, if that were possible.

      This is probably not helpful. But I will tell you the three vaccines I think are completely UNNECESSARY (in the absence of medical indication or other risk factors):

      1) Hep B at birth – this recommendation is just wrong. It has contributed to infant death in this country and long-term immune system damage. No human or other mammal should receive a vaccine within hours of birth unless there is a real chance of infection (and even then it may not be the right choice.) We force this vaccine in the hospital while simultaneously undermining women’s ability to breastfeed.

      2) Rotavirus – I have no doubt this is a completely unnecessary vaccine and it is another I would recommend anyone living in America and breastfeeding their children to forego. While I understand that Paul Offit, who developed the vaccine, had very good intentions (he saw a baby die of rotavirus in America), this vaccine is not appropriate to Americans.

      3) Chicken pox – almost every doctor I’ve interviewed has told me privately that they disagree with the chicken pox vaccine but they feel their hands are tied and they must promote and administer it to their patients.

      I am not an expert nor am I a medical doctor but I believe that if we did not do any of these vaccines and took them off the schedule right now, our children would be healthier in many ways. If you compare our schedule to those in other countries, you will see that countries with much better health outcomes for their children than in the United States do not routinely recommend these vaccines.

      I think Bob Sears’ book is tremendously helpful and if you haven’t read it, I would look at his alternative schedules.

      He will be speaking in Portland at Lewis and Clark on the subject of vaccines and ways to boost natural immunity a week from today (Saturday, October 15). I am planning to attend that talk and I urge you to go–you might get the more concrete medical-approved information you are looking for by talking to him.

      Hope this helps. Sorry to go on for so long.

      • Natalie

        Thanks for the reply. I have read your article (and I still have the print copy) but not since it was written, which was a few years ago, right? Thanks for the Bob Sears suggestion. Other parenting decisions seem so much more obvious to me. They may be less mainstream, but they’re so obvious. (At least to me they are. I’m thinking of breastfeeding in particular, but there are others.) With vaccines, there are risks on both sides, and it makes it really hard for me to feel confident about my decisions.

        • I agree with you Natalie that this is such a difficult question and there’s a lot of gray area. And I think you put it so well: with vaccines there are risks on both sides. I think public health official try too hard to minimize the short term and long term risks associated with the shots, while vaccine safety advocates try too hard to minimize the risk of diseases, if that makes sense. Perhaps it will help you to know that my husband and I are constantly re-visiting and re-thinking our choices concerning vaccines. It’s not something set in stone with us. Even though I read everything I can (including, or perhaps especially, the pro-vaccine literature. I just finished “Autisms False Prophets” as well as “The Panic Virus”), try to keep on top of the most current science and the most current disease outbreaks, we always wonder if we are doing the right thing.

  8. I’m worried to hear these vaccines have become obligatory in the USA. Seems to me there are so many more vaccines today than 40 years ago when I was raising kids in France.

    One note on chicken pox: my daughter had chicken pox. There was no vaccine in France then, and no obligation to vaccinate, of course. That same virus can give shingles, which she did get. My two other children did not. Do you know if this new vaccine protects from shingles, too?

    Finally, I wanted to ask if this young mother you interviewed could avoid the vaccine schedule by home-schooling her children?

    • Alexandra, thank you for your questions.

      A lot of people believe that the vaccines is actually worsening the shingles problem in America. The chicken pox vaccine in no way protects against shingles but there is a shingles vaccine that vaccine salespeople try to convince doctors to use. Getting the chicken pox vaccine means exposing your body to the same virus that causes shingles, and some argue that the vaccine pre-disposes you to get shingles later in life, though this is not well understood yet.

      That’s the short answer.

      Here’s a longer answer, which I wrote and was published as a side article in Mothering magazine (I can send you the references, if you want them):

      Varivax: More Harm than Good?

      Some parents and many doctors were surprised by the introduction in 1995 of the chicken-pox vaccine as part of the CDC’s schedule of routine vaccinations. Vaccines have historically been developed to protect children against serious childhood illnesses, but chicken pox, a viral infection also known as varicella, has always been a mild disease. Until the vaccine was introduced, it caused about 100 deaths each year,and about half of those deaths were among children.

      According to Barbara Loe Fisher, cofounder of the National Vaccination Information Center and co-author of the book “A Shot in the Dark” (1985), about the dangers of the whole-cell pertussis vaccine, the vaccine was first designed for children with compromised immune systems, but once Merck & Co. had developed the vaccine, they needed to find a market for it. (Varivax, the only chicken-pox vaccine used in the US, is made by Merck.)

      Now that the chicken-pox vaccine is required for enrollment in most public schools, there are far fewer cases of chicken pox in the US.

      On one hand, this is a good thing: fewer children miss school, parents don’t have to take time off work, and currently there are fewer than five deaths per year from wild chicken pox.

      Yet these positive benefits come with an unforeseen downside. Once exposed to wild chicken pox, you have immunity, which is important: the disease is almost always more serious in adults than in children.

      Previously, when wild chicken pox broke out in the general population, the immunity of adults who had been exposed to it as children would be boosted by periodically coming in contact with the disease. But now that natural immunization boost is effectively gone, and has led to growing numbers of baby boomers who had chicken pox as children getting shingles, a more serious disease caused by the chicken-pox virus.

      “We now have an epidemic of shingles among older children and adults which is far more expensive and actually far more painful than if we had let chicken pox remain endemic in the population, and used the vaccine selectively,” explains Fisher.

      According to the CDC, approximately 1 million people a year now get shingles, and there is an increasing body of scientific data showing that the numbers of adults suffering from shingles is on the rise.

      One study showed a 90 percent increase in the number of adults infected with the herpes zoster (shingles) virus in Massachusetts from 1999 to 2003 as the chicken-pox vaccine become more widespread.5 Other studies have estimated increases as well.

      John Grabenstein, Senior Medical Director, Adult Vaccines, Merck & Co., Inc., argues that the very slight recent rise in shingles—which, he says, is something Merck & Co. also found in their shingles prevention study of more than 38,500 people—is not related to the chicken-pox vaccine.

      “Shingles was with us even before the childhood vaccine came along,” Grabenstein points out. “It’s not correct to say that because we are vaccinating children therefore adults are getting shingles.”

      Instead, Grabenstein attributes the rise in shingles to the rising life expectancy among American adults.

      “The longer you live, the greater your risk of getting it,” he says.

      He discounts the idea that re-exposure to the wild virus circulating in the population provides a potential boost to the immune system and is preventive. “Your exposure to your grandkids is a minor player,” Grabenstein insists. “The dominant reason shingles occurs is that the immune system ages along with the body.”

      What everyone does agree on is this: shingles is a potentially serious and terribly painful disease.

      To address the shingles problem, Merck has developed a new vaccine: Zostavax, licensed by the FDA in May 2006, and now being recommended for everyone over 60.

      Fisher finds this troublesome. “You have a situation that was created by vaccination and you have a vaccine to counteract that situation,” she says.

      It’s not only vaccine skeptics who are concerned.

      Dr. John E. Trainer III, a family physician in Jacksonville, Florida, who describes himself as “very pro-vaccine,” has questions about the cost of Zostavax and its effectiveness.

      “It’s a coin toss of efficacy,” he says. “If I give it to a 60-year-old, they are 50 percent likely to benefit from it. That means you can flip a coin and see whether it works or not. The vaccine is expensive, and the cost to the patient varies widely, depending on insurance coverage. My partner and I have not embraced the shingles vaccine.”

      In addition to the problem of an upsurge in shingles, the chicken-pox vaccine, which is a live virus, can cause several side effects that are as or more dangerous than the disease itself.

      Since the chicken-pox vaccine came into widespread use, reported reactions to it have included bleeding disorders, pneumonia, skin infections, severe rashes, and such nervous-system problems as Guillain-Barré Syndrome, encephalitis, and seizures.

      Two young patients of Dr. Robert W. Sears who received the vaccine have gotten benign thrombocytopenia, a blood-clotting disorder.

      Both of the children in Sears’s practice were hospitalized, and both took more than two months to recover.

      “This doesn’t make me stop giving that vaccine,” Sears said. “It just makes me realize that these reactions can happen.”

    • To answer your second question, Alexandra, homeschooling is always an option and it is one that many people (especially religious parents who opt out of vaccinating because they do not believe in it for religious reasons) choose. But in this case I think Shari and her husband want to keep their children in public school, which is their right. They live in the Boston area where the schools are excellent and the property taxes are very very high. Hopefully Shari will weigh in on this as well.

  9. Lynn Barton

    My sister got thrombocytopenia from MMR….though back then (late 60’s) they called it ideopathic-thrombcytopenia (meaning they didn’t know what caused it). I had no idea until I went to a lecture in Ashland about 10 years ago and learned that this is a rare side effect of MMR. Turns out my sister was accidentally given a double dose of MMR. Now it’s turning up in chickenpox vaccinated kids…that’s really sobering.

  10. Jennifer, where can I find a list of childhood vaccinations that provide a matrix with the risk factors (i.e. 1 in 1,000) of getting the disease today without the vaccine. Then a column with the risk factors in children having adverse responses to the vaccines for each disease. Then a column with the known cause of each disease. Then a column that offers the mode of transportation in how the disease is spread.

    Wouldn’t such a data-based (forgive the pun) platform provide parents legitimate information rather than doctoral parenthetical rhetoric? And what if each piece of data provided in the matrix were actually linked to the original research document form which it was derived?

    In this information age of technology, there is no excuse for the medical industry to placate the public with pretense of authoritative posture. She me the data! If a doctor says she advises that a child should get a Heb B shot at birth, show me the original research that supports such advise. Allow me to look at it myself and determine whether I agree. Let me ask who funded the research, what questions were asked, who comprised the team, what research exists that opposes the information, etc.

    WOuldn’t it be great if the medical industry were transparent and made it easy for the average mama bear (and papa bear) to access the information they claim is the rationale behind their advice? In today’s world of online access to everything under the sun, there’s no reason why my doctor should be able to say, “Check out the research for yourself. Here’s the link on my website to the original research information.”

    • I think transparency and openness in medicine is really important, Mike. In other countries where they have better maternal and infant outcomes, most statistics are a matter of easily accessible public record, even controversial ones.

      For example, in Iceland every fetus that is aborted for chromosomal abnormalities is autopsied to make sure that the tests were accurate. The number of babies aborted is reported, as are the abnormalities, and the method by which they were detected.

      As you know, your suggestion is a radical one that will likely garner much criticism. If “known” risks of a disease like polio are published parents will stop vaccinating. Why? Because an infant in the United States has “no quantifiable risk” of getting polio. The CDC knows this (I was told that exact sentence). Many people believe it’s time to stop polio immunization.

      But the medical establishment believes that we cannot stop vaccinating against polio until it is entirely gone from every country in the world.

      In order to keep Americans compliant with that ideology, it is in the best interests of public health officials to obfuscate.

      A related aside: with some exceptions (public hospitals, hospitals in Massachusetts, and some other states) hospitals in America are not required to publish their C-section rates, maternal mortality rates, or infant mortality rates. In order to protect moms and babies we need to know those exact numbers. But disclosing them is not in the interest of big business and hospitals in America are businesses. Which is very sad on so many levels and why I have been championing home birth with qualified attendants as a safe or even safer way to have a baby.

  11. Hello everyone. I’ve been watching you all post with great interest, but have waited a little while to think about how I wanted to respond.

    I’m not surprised that there are those of you here who feel that I somehow caved to pressure, and perhaps if I’d had more time to assess the situation and ask more questions, I might have done things differently, but I might not. I was caught off guard in the middle of a religious holiday, and I didn’t have the luxury of time.

    This certainly isn’t a forum to get into the pros and cons of homeschooling, but I can tell you that this was never an option for me. I don’t believe that everyone is cut out to teach their own children, and if I had wanted to take that route, I would have chosen to live elsewhere.

    At $25,000 a child, private school is completely out of the question for us, too. What’s more, most of the private schools in the Boston-area are more rigid about vaccines than the public schools.

    I grew up in a conservative, homogeneous community, and I wanted something different for my kids. We chose to live in a tree-lined, urban suburb of Boston with super high taxes and some of the best public schools in the nation. My daughters’ perceptions of how we are all different and yet the same are moving. Their friends are from all over the world and the family mixes are fascinating. I don’t want to give that up.

    I think every family’s situation is different. If you’re going to choose to breastfeed and keep your child home all the way through to kindergarten, you can make different choices than a mother who needs to use daycare and go to work.

    There are vaccines that do what they do well, and I think it’s a mistake to attribute all that ails our children on vaccines. We live in a country where women don’t breastfeed long enough (if at all), where families believe apples make Happy Meals healthy, where second graders use cell phones and babies sit in strollers full of chemical flame retardants. There is so much more going on here.

    Still, it is so disheartening to think that vaccines are just another product for a pharmaceutical industry looking for the next money maker. I have lost faith in the system.

    The debate behind my story shouldn’t be about whether or not families should have to choose between vaccines and mainstream school or daycare . It should be about our rights, as a parent, to say, “I firmly believe that vaccine is wrong, I am NOT posing a public health threat, and I am not giving it to my child.” And, not get kicked out of school.
    Shari Becker recently posted…For Your Consideration: Preserve PeppersMy Profile

  12. Jennifer, the point you make about the availability and easy access to medical research data in other countries versus the inaccessibility and obfuscation of research data by the medical community in the U.S. is, to me, an entrepreneurial opportunity.

    Would the American people donate a few dollars a month to an effort to establish an online platform that seeks to build an online repository of medical research data in a format that’s easy to digest and understand?

    If the answer is yes, then a small team can be assembled whose job it is to spend their time each day finding the specific data to fill in the blanks for each vaccine produced and disbursed in the U.S.

    Since the information is available somewhere, and the CDC plays a role in authorizing the safety of such medications, the Freedom of Information Act provides a foundation of empowerment for such an enterprise. The relative ease in which an online plaform can be built to house the information offers a vehicle of mass communications. And the new Facebook-like communities that are open source (available to anyone for any reason) provides the code necessary to produce a community connected to the information.

    A team of journalists can contribute original reporting to the site. Bloggers across the nation can provide more information on their geographic regions. Journalists can interview doctors, patients and various medical professionals, researchers and corporate execs on video to provide a steady stream of new information. Polls and surveys can easily be placed on the platform to gauge the public’s understanding of issues.

    The aggregation of information on school requirements and other news regarding vaccines can be part of the daily value of the platform that inspires conversation and engagement in the community.

    Is anyone doing this? It seems like an opportunity if there’s financial support for it. I see the core pieces as follows:

    1. Core team of researchers
    2. Core team of platform developers and info content managers
    3. Core team of journalists producing content
    4. Blogging community

    Given the ongoing interest in the subject matter, and the fact that vaccines, as well as numerous other pharmaceuticals are being massed produced with an ever-increasing pace of manufacturing, the information channels to the public have not kept up. I believe that may be an entrepreneurial opportunity.

  13. Hope Edelman

    Hi Jennifer,
    It’s true that California public schools “required” all students to have pertussis boosters before starting or returning to school this fall, but California is also a state that allows parents to opt out of submitting vaccine records by signing a philosophical waiver on the back of our school medical forms. Despite repeated mailings from the schools and school boards (which everyone received) I chose not to give the vaccine to my 4th grade daughter, signed the philosophical waiver the first week of school, and haven’t heard anything from anyone since. She hasn’t had any vaccines and I didn’t want to be manipulated into having to start them. My older daughter’s high school was a little more aggressive about it, though I think I could have signed the exemption there as well without incident. I never found out because I decided to get her the booster, since she’d already had the first shot and a booster when she was much younger. Such individual decisions, aren’t they, even within a single family? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, only what’s right for each child.

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