August 30, 2017–Port Townsend, Washington.
Health freedom activists in Washington state are on a mission to inform parents about medical freedom and vaccine exemptions.
Annette Huenke, 62, belongs to the group Informed Choice Washington, an organization of parents, educators, medical professionals, and thought-leaders who promote health freedom. She and her friend, Alison Hedlund, have taken to the streets of Port Townsend, Washington to make sure parents understand their rights.
You may have seen them this afternoon on the corner of Sheridan and 19th Streets in this scenic city of some 9,500 inhabitants located two hours north of Seattle. Tomorrow, Thursday, August 31, around 11:30 a.m. they will be back. They plan to be at the Castle Hill shopping mall on the Sheridan Street sidewalk outside of the Jefferson County Health Department next to the QFC.
They will be holding a banner that is 7.5 feet wide. It cost Huenke $200 to have made.
“I woke up one morning and realized, I’ve got to make a banner,” Huenke explains when I reach her by phone. “The health department says that vaccines are ‘required.’ That’s what they say right on the school registration forms but that is demonstrably false. How wrong is that, that the health department can say that and it is patently false? You can go to school without them, and many kids in Port Townsend do.”
Huenke says her goal is to make sure that Washington parents understand that Washington state law allows medical, religious, and philosophical vaccine exemptions. Parents can download exemption forms at Informed Choice Washington (which a medical professional then has to sign).
Huenke believes the right to vaccine exemptions is a fundamental freedom.
“I am deeply concerned about the recent creep of fascism into our lives,” Huenke explains. “Mandated medical interventions are fascistic. The government should not be telling us how to raise our children or what to put in their bodies. I’m very concerned about government overreach.”
The owner of an indigenous art gallery for 18 years, Huenke decided in her teens not to have children. She describes herself as a longtime activist. She says she has protested the Iraq War and border patrol’s racial profiling.
“I can’t help it. When I see injustice I just have to say something. My mother said I’ve been like that, you know, straight out of the womb.”
CDC vaccine recommendations, state-by-state vaccine implementation
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a schedule of childhood vaccinations and then each state decides which vaccines to require for daycare and school attendance.
States are not required to mandate all the vaccines on the CDC schedule. Though hepatitis B (a vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease given to newborns regardless of risk) is recommended for every newborn in America, it is not required for daycare or school entry in Alabama, Montana, or South Dakota, for instance.
Every state in the United States allows for medical exemptions for vaccines and all but three states allow families to opt-out of vaccines based on religious or philosophical beliefs or both.
“We’re concerned that the current science of the immune system and the impact of vaccines upon the immune system and neurological health are not being incorporated into vaccine policy,” says Bernadette Pajer, co-president of Informed Choice Washington and the mother of 14-year-old boy.
“For instance, the pertussis vaccine has been found to negatively impact herd immunity by creating asymptomatic carriers who are spreading it everywhere. Considering that this and other vaccines have flaws and come with risks, how can we possibly require parents to accept them? We need policies that respect science and freedom of medical choice.”
Washington state law does require vaccines for school, Pajer points out, but it also allows for exemptions.
“So whenever they tell parents that vaccines are required they must also mention the exemptions,” Pajer says. “That’s what’s not happening. Exemption information is either missing from the information being distributed or it’s buried.”
Pajer says she has been in dialogue with Paul Throne, manager, Health Promotion and Communication for the Washington State Department of Health. “He has been very respectful and understanding of parents’ concerns. We’re delighted to be working with him.”
A mixed reception
Huenke says she has been getting lots of praise for her activism. “We were around the corner from the elementary school and got so many thank you’s and thumbs up, we couldn’t even count ’em.”
Not everyone was happy to see the sign, however.
“A few older people thumbed us down, one youngster hollered ‘vaccinate your f’ing kids.”
After an hour and a half in the wind, with callouses forming on their fingers, Huenke and Hedlund closed up shop.
As Huenke explained in a follow-up email: “I got to the food co-op and a woman approached me and said, ‘Did I just see you standing on the corner with a sign?’ T’was me. ‘Where did you get that?’ Had it made. ‘It’s so important that you’re doing that–thank you!’ (Heard that comment from several drivers too.) She knew they weren’t required, but hadn’t realized that this is the terminology of the state & county officials. Education is a marvelous thing!”
Disclosure: In March 2017 Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., was invited to speak at an immunity education conference co-hosted by Informed Choice Washington. You can watch the video of her presentation below.