Religious students not exempt from vaccination

It’s taken an outbreak of measles in New York City to ask why parents are legally able to keep their children from being vaccinated (“Why Are There Religious Exemptions for Vaccines?” The New York Times, Apr. 12).  Yet 47 states also allow them to oppose vaccination on religious grounds. California is one of the few states that correctly eliminated the religious-belief exemption.

Few politicians are willing to challenge parents, since they tend to form a powerful voting bloc.  It’s to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s credit that he has done so.  But most parents don’t seem to care that by defying the law they are exposing not only their own children to the disease but also others who for legitimate medical reasons cannot be vaccinated.

If religious parents historically had their way, smallpox, polio and other diseases would never have been eliminated.  Although the anti-vaccination movement is depicted as new, it had its beginnings in 1855 when Massachusetts became the first state to make smallpox vaccinations mandatory for public-school children. A few decades later, a pamphlet titled “Vaccination Is the Curse of Childhood” was circulated in Boston.

The courts have repeatedly held that religious beliefs cannot be used as a shield in denying children the right to medical care.  I’m thinking now of parents who have cited Christian Science as the reason they refused treatment for their children, and the children subsequently died.

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