Parents Protest Mandatory Flu Vaccine Policy
By Gerri Elder
In New Jersey, many parents are furious over a new requirement that their children get a flu shot in order to attend daycare or preschool. The state is the first in the country to have such a rule.
On October 16, a crowd of activists and parents gathered outside the New Jersey Statehouse to protest the flu vaccine requirement. They also voiced support for a measure that would allow parents to opt out of the mandatory vaccinations for their children.
The organizers of the rally say that they are not against vaccines, but the decision of whether or not children should be vaccinated should belong to parents.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the new vaccine policy in New Jersey was approved last December by the state's Public Health Council. It is scheduled to take effect this fall.
The measure requires that all children between six months and five years of age get the flu vaccine and a pneumococcal vaccine by the end of the year in order to continue attending preschool or daycare centers. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots for children under five. However, no other state has made the flu vaccine mandatory for children of any age.
The New Jersey Health Department released a statement saying that young children often transmit the flu to others and that the vaccine not only protects children, but other members of the community.
New Jersey Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk spoke at the rally on October 16. She says that she has 34 co-sponsors for a bill that would allow for conscientious objections to mandatory vaccinations.
The state policy in New Jersey already allows for medical and religious exemptions to mandatory vaccinations. However, Vandervalk says that requests for medical exemptions are often rejected by local health authorities. According to Vandervalk, 19 other states already allow conscientious exemptions to vaccinations.
Vandervalk's bill is strongly opposed by the New Jersey Health Department. The department is against any broad exemptions to mandatory vaccination policies. It says that due to many newly-arrived immigrants, a mobile population and a high population density, the state is particularly vulnerable to diseases that can be prevented with vaccines.
Robin Stavola also spoke at the statehouse rally. Stavola told the crowd of several hundred that her daughter, Holly, passed away in 2000 when she was just five years old. Less than two weeks prior to her death, Holly had received eight different vaccines, including a booster shot. Stavola says that she is not an anti-vaccine crusader; she just believes children are given too many vaccines.
Parents Say Vaccines Linked to Autism
Many parents have claimed that a mercury-based preservative that was widely used in vaccines in the past is linked to autism. The preservative, thimerosal, is no longer used in booster shots, but is still present in single-dose flu shots. The parents of a 10-year-old autistic child in Georgia have been given the green light by the Georgia Supreme Court to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against Wyeth, a vaccine manufacturer.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and New Jersey health officials say that the flu vaccine is safe, effective and necessary to protect the community. However, Vandervalk and the supporters of her bill insist that the research of the flu vaccine's impact on young children has been inadequately researched.
Of particular concern to Vandervalk and parents are the flu vaccines that contain thimerosol, but the CDC says that there is no proof that the trace amounts of the preservatives in the vaccine cause harm.
Many parents who protest the state's new vaccine policy believe that many types of vaccine are being overused and that this has led to more cases of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other neurological problems in children.
Generally, parents of children who have been injured or made ill by vaccines are barred from pursuing personal injury claims against the manufacturers due to federal preemption. The fact that an injury case against Wyeth was given the go-ahead by the appeals court and Supreme Court in Georgia is a historic breakthrough for the rights of parents and children.