Vaccinations are Essential in Public Schools

By Adam Scheidler

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Image by Angelo Esslinger from Pixabay

Companion Material

Essay Prompt

Vaccinations have become a hot topic of debate in recent years, particularly the requirement for children to be vaccinated in order to attend their local public school. These vaccination requirements are known as zero tolerance vaccine laws. In "Zero Tolerance Vaccine Laws in America: Will You Defend Vaccine Freedom?" Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a non-profit clearinghouse dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries and supporting informed consent of vaccinations, argues that forced vaccination laws go against citizens' constitutional rights. Fisher believes that her oldest son suffered severe symptoms from a diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) shot at the age of two in 1980 and survived but was left with learning disabilities that hindered his education. This event, although extremely rare if it was a result of the DPT vaccine, has motivated Fisher to author numerous books warning others about negative side effects from vaccines and to testify against current zero tolerance vaccine laws to Congress over the past four decades. Fisher argues her case against forced vaccinations through discussing the decline of vaccine safety and the principles of democracy written in the Constitution in hopes of preventing more children from suffering negative side effects due to certain vaccinations. However, Fisher and the NVIC fail to recognize the many benefits of vaccines and neglect to discuss the medical reasons why almost all doctors lobby for zero tolerance vaccine laws requiring children to receive important vaccinations. In fact, it is a common belief among medical professionals that there are greater risks to children in schools if they do not get the recommended vaccinations because it makes them more susceptible to viruses that spread extremely quickly and easily. Although zero tolerance vaccine laws are ultimately determined by politicians and state governments, it is my position that zero tolerance vaccine laws should be enforced in public schools because the health benefits from vaccinations protect the greater good of all communities and hold everyone to an equal standard of preventing the spread of virulent diseases.

The first point Fisher makes is that public confidence in vaccines has declined as the government has continued to censor the truths behind vaccines, such as the requirement of vaccines for children without considering the biological risks of each individual child (which can vary). Although this decline in confidence is a truth, it is nothing new with vaccinations and is certainly not caused by government censorship as Fisher suggests. In fact, the government and medical professionals have been extremely transparent with their research on the side effects of vaccines to ensure public safety. Most of the fears antivaxxers (people against vaccinations) have are with the presence of thimerosal in vaccinations. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that can be used in vaccines to prevent the growth of bacteria during storage. Exposure to mercury in children is a concern to many people because some think it linked with detrimental side effects in adolescents, such as autism. However, Healthy Children, an organization formed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that thimerosal has not been used in childhood vaccinations due to this skepticism since the 1990s (a precaution taken before its effects were tested by scientists) with the exception of the flu shot, which people can opt to get with or without thimerosal ("Vaccine Safety: Examine the Evidence"). Fisher fails to recognize that thimerosal is no longer used in vaccinations, which her oldest son would have received and potentially caused his severe reaction. However, many studies have found no causal link between thimerosal and autism even if Fisher thinks that this is the cause of for her son's side effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency created with the goal of improving overall public health, thimerosal actually breaks down in the human body quickly and never reaches dangerous levels. In addition to this information, autism rates in adolescents still increased following the removal of thimerosal in vaccines which would be the opposite result of what would be expected if thimerosal was a factor in causing autism ("Vaccine Safety"). The Institute of Medicine (now known as the National Academy of Medicine), an American nonprofit aiming to help people make informed medical decisions, also did a study in 2004 that reached the same conclusion that thimerosal exposure did not cause autism in children ("IOM Reports That MMR and Thimerosal Do Not Cause Autism"). These studies show that vaccinations are not a factor in the development of autism in kids and that information on such studies are not censored by the government and medical professionals. Additionally, the studies that have been conducted supporting antivaxxers' stance against vaccines have numerous flaws. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the major studies that supported a link between vaccines and autism, known as the Wakefield study, comes from a surgeon named Andrew Wakefield who lost his license to practice medicine and was found to conduct his experiments using methods that resulted in many inaccuracies. Wakefield's study was retracted from publication because he failed to recognize that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) shot is administered to children around the same time doctors are able to diagnose children with autism so it is expected kids diagnosed with autism would have also gotten the MMR shot recently. Wakefield also did not study incidences of autism in kids who were not vaccinated in addition to those who had received the MMR shot (Children's Hospital). These flaws take away from the validity of Wakefield's results and lead to inconclusive results of an empirically verifiable link between vaccinations and autism.

Fisher also argues that doctors are attacking people against the zero tolerance vaccine laws. She claims doctors are being treated as if they are above the law by segregating and persecuting individuals against vaccinations, but she provides no evidence to back her claim. No doctors personally attack anyone by supporting a law that they believe promotes public health and safety. They have the constitutional right to support what they believe in just as much as anyone else, which is clearly outlined in the First Amendment. These points show how Fisher's argument about doctors attacking people questioning vaccine laws is not supported by any evidence and in fact, her point is most likely exaggerated in order to discredit doctors who are exercising the same right as she is in voicing her beliefs.

Fisher argues that an elitist class of doctors are oppressing a minority group into complying with zero tolerance vaccine laws. Fisher compares the democratic principle of protecting minority rights—when it comes to zero tolerance vaccine laws—with military draft laws, which she believes endangers the lives of conscientious objectors in both instances. Fisher's point regarding zero tolerance vaccine laws would be valid if the laws put children in the way of direct medical harm or danger. However, the zero tolerance laws requiring children to get certain vaccinations to enter school allows for valid exemptions. For example, every single state in the country allows for medical exemptions for children to not receive a vaccine if they have a condition that would put them at a greater risk of experiencing side effects from a vaccination ("SchoolVaxView"). With medical exemptions in place, no child is blatantly put at risk of side effects from a vaccine let alone put at risk of death from receiving one. With these laws in place, it is extremely unlikely for a situation to arise where a child suffers severe side effects from a vaccination such as with what happened to Fisher's oldest son. Additionally, the CDC states, "All but two states [Mississippi and West Virginia] allow for nonmedical exemptions for religious or philosophical [personal] reasons" ("SchoolVaxView"). Through these exemptions the minority rights of people against vaccinating their child are protected and no child's life is jeopardized by being thrown into the "War against Microbes," as Fisher describes it. Vaccine exemptions ensure that children only receive vaccines that will promote their safety and the safety of others around them. The facts about exemptions refute Fisher's argument that the risks of vaccinations are not shared equally among people because kids who are genetically at risk of side effects from vaccines have an out with regard to being forced to receive vaccinations.

Throughout the rest of her article, Fisher compares zero tolerance vaccine laws to forcing innocent children into a bloody war. She calls her supporters to lobby for the freedom to think rationally, meaning in her opinion to stand up against forced vaccinations, much like protestors did during the Vietnam War. Fisher is using a poor analogy to make her case because it is hyperbolic to compare the wounds and trauma suffered by soldiers in a war to the potential side effects of vaccines, such as minor inflammatory responses. The faulty analogy Fisher uses discredits her argument and moreover she demonstrates a lack of reasonableness when she fails to acknowledge the many benefits of vaccines, which is why doctors and other medical professionals ultimately support forced vaccinations for children to attend public school.

Fisher makes vaccinations out to be all bad because of rare scenarios where they might have had a detrimental role in a child's development, however, in reality vaccines have saved millions of lives and have greatly improved public health. Before vaccines emerged, the only way to become immune to a virus was to contract it and suffer from the many symptoms resulting in potentially life-threatening illnesses. Therefore, the best-case scenario for people was to hope they never got the disease or be lucky enough to endure it. With modern medicine, vaccines were developed so that just a tiny amount of the virus was exposed to the immune system, leading to immunity without having to suffer through the disease at full strength. The impact of vaccines has been significant in reducing the number of cases involving common viruses. For example, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) states that there were over 48,000 cases of smallpox in the United States during the twentieth century before vaccines and by 2009 there were zero cases following the development of the vaccine for it ("Vaccine Benefits"). Another case study from the same organization involves measles, which dropped from over 500,000 cases to just 71 over the same period of time. In addition to these statistics, pediatricians say vaccines are often over 90% effective and agree that the mild side effects a child may suffer from a vaccine are almost always less serious than those effects suffered by a child who was not vaccinated and contracted the virus ("Vaccine Safety: The Facts"). The effects of vaccines also are seen in studying countries that do not require or offer certain vaccinations. Many vaccine-preventable diseases are still extremely present and damaging in countries that do not require or offer vaccines ("Vaccine Safety: The Facts"). Pediatricians specialize in the branch of medicine that treats infants through their adolescence and have tested and researched vaccines thoroughly as seen by the statistics above. The conclusion is always identical in study after study: vaccines work. In order to promote the overall health of children in schools and prevent virulent diseases from spreading, the current zero tolerance laws for vaccinations make sense in attempting to achieve this goal.

Zero tolerance vaccines laws are up for debate as people are increasingly concerned about the potential side effects of vaccines and whether or not forced vaccines violate the rights of people in the U.S. Despite these concerns, it has been proven that vaccines rarely cause serious side effects and are extremely effective in preventing the spread of virulent diseases. Additionally, zero tolerance vaccine laws do not violate the rights of citizens due to the exemption system that is in place and the fact that these laws came into existence through the same advocacy methods Fisher and the NVIC are using in attempt to repeal them. In order to best promote the safety and common good for all people, zero tolerance vaccine laws should be enforced, especially in public schools where kids can easily be exposed to preventable diseases.