There is something new that parents may want to consider as they prepare their child for the upcoming school year. Some schools are suspending children who are unvaccinated. The purpose is to stop the spread of preventable childhood diseases. Parents who live in states that allow exemptions for vaccines can still make that choice. However, they should be aware that the exemption will not override the school’s right to protect students from the spread of diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations.
Vaccines prevent diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point out that some diseases, like polio and diphtheria, have become very rare in the United States. Vaccinations make people much more resistant to the disease that they have been vaccinated against than they would have been if they went unvaccinated.
Another good reason to vaccinate has to do with what is called “herd immunity”. Newborns, people who are elderly, and people who have weakened immune systems may not be healthy enough to be vaccinated. What prevents them from catching measles, polio, chicken pox, and other preventable diseases? It it the fact that the people around that person have been vaccinated. These people are protected from catching the diseases they have been vaccinated against and can’t spread those diseases to other people (including the unvaccinated).
It is the “herd immunity” concept that is touched upon in a new law. In June of 2014, federal Judge William Kuntz of Brooklyn ruled against three families who felt that their religious rights were being violated when schools removed their children from class out of fear of disease being spread through the school. Their unvaccinated children had been sent home when other students who attended the school had chicken pox.
The judge ruled against the families. In his decision, he referenced a case from 1905 in which a man was fined for refusing the smallpox vaccine. The judge decided that the government has a right to protect public health, even if it means restraining individual rights to do so.
Last school year, in April of 2014, schools in Central Ohio warned parents that children who were unvaccinated against mumps would have to miss school if an outbreak of mumps hits classrooms. The letter to parents pointed out that unvaccinated children may have to stay home 25 days or longer if clusters of mumps cases start to show up in schools.
It is entirely possible that schools in other states will begin suspending unvaccinated children in the coming school year. Some feel that the judge’s ruling gives them a basis to work from. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, and who receive an exemption for it (as per the laws of the state they live in) can still do so. Those parents may want to start making childcare plans for the days that their children could be suspended as a result of their school having an outbreak of preventable disease.
Image by NIAID on Flickr.