Ameer Hamideh is a smiling, bubbly 9-year-old. Born with cerebral palsy, Ameer is confined to a wheelchair and uses an assisted communication device to help him speak.
After immunizations triggered a severe seizure disorder when he was 5 months old, his family was told by their neurologist that it wasn’t safe for Ameer to have further vaccines.
But this past summer, Ameer, who lives in Buffalo, N.Y., was one of the thousands of children barred from school after New York state passed a law in June 2019 to abolish vaccine exemptions.
While proponents argue that these measures are important for public health, doctors, research scientists, and educators disagree. They say that mandating medicine is bad for children and for public health.
“Excluding children from school because their parents have certain religious beliefs regarding vaccination is discrimination, not sound public health,” says Dr. Kelly Sutton, a physician who has been practicing family medicine for over 40 years, in both California and Rhode Island. “Public health is served best by sanitation, nutrition, education, and selective vaccination with attention to risk factors for vaccine injury.”
Tom Young, who has been teaching in Connecticut for more than 20 years and who currently teaches fourth grade in Danbury, agrees.
“If you believe vaccinations work, then the only people who might get sick are the unvaccinated kids. So I don’t see the logic of excluding any children,” Young says.
Young is troubled by the idea that children would be barred from school based on the religious or philosophical beliefs of their parents.
“Every child deserves a free public education,” Young says. “It’s always harmful to exclude any group of people, it’s stigmatizing to isolate anybody. You’re basically making the child into a leper.”
Legislation that mandates vaccines “ignores the fundamental American value of choice and informed parental consent,” writes Superintendent Robert Long, of the East Quogue School District, in a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, about a push to include influenza and HPV on the list of required vaccines.
In New Jersey, a bill similar to New York’s was defeated on Jan. 13 after a groundswell of protest. Other states where lawmakers, many of whom accept large financial contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, unsuccessfully tried to pass school exclusion laws include Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Missouri, and Colorado.
But Connecticut legislators have pledged to revisit the issue now that the General Assembly is back in session. That promise has left many concerned.
Instead of encouraging vaccination, these laws promote exclusion and discrimination, unfairly affecting low-income families, says Gabrielle Sellari, an educator and mother of two who has a master’s degree in special education. When the unpopular law passed by one vote in New York, hundreds of families, Sellari says, chose to leave the state. Many settled in Connecticut.
“Forced compliance is not the right approach,” says Sellari, whose son has life-threatening food allergies. “If you don’t believe your child needs hepatitis B—a vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease—you shouldn’t be forced to do it for him to attend school.”
Members of the Church of Christ Scientist, as well as Eastern Orthodox Old Believers, and many Catholics, Christians, and Orthodox Jews also say taking away religious exemptions to vaccines is wrong. Pro-life religious adherents, including many from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, refuse vaccines that contain cell lines grown from aborted fetal tissue. Some Jews, as well as many Muslims object to the use of pig products (porcine gelatin) found in certain vaccines. Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse products made with human and animal blood. Animal-derived products used in manufacturing vaccines include amino acids, glycerol, detergents, gelatin, enzymes, and blood, according to the FDA.
Vegans also reject vaccines made with animal products, which include canine kidney cell protein (in the quadrivalent influenza vaccine), egg protein (in certain flu vaccines as well as in the yellow fever shot), and bovine serum albumin (found in over half a dozen vaccines, including rotavirus and chickenpox).
Respect for people with different religious points of view is important, Sellari says. A health advocate and a member of the board of Health Choice Connecticut, Sellari points out that Connecticut is the Constitution State and that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
“The basic question really is, ‘Who should have control over children? Should it be the parents or should it be the state?’” says Dr. Sue McIntosh, a retired pediatric hematologist-oncologist who was affiliated with Yale New Haven Hospital. “Parents must have the freedom to make medical choices for their young children.”
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of “Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family.” A Fulbright awardee and mother of four, she has worked on a child survival campaign in West Africa, advocated for an end to child slavery in Pakistan on prime-time TV in France, and taught post-colonial literature to non-traditional students in inner-city Atlanta. Learn more about her at JenniferMargulis.net
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.