On Jan. 14, a New Jersey bill that would prohibit unvaccinated children from attending school unless they have a medical excuse failed to pass, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The bill, Senate NJ S2173, would have no longer recognized religious reasons as an exception for mandatory vaccinations, in addition to clarifying provisions for medical exemptions, according to the proposal statement.
I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade. In nearly a dozen years of going to services and reading the Bible, not once did I recall learning that vaccinations were unethical. My teachers and priests urged us to get the flu vaccine every year.
In fact, leaders of nearly every major religion encourage their members to vaccinate their children, the Inquirer reported, proving the anti-vaccination movement isn’t based on religion at all.
By allowing your child to go to school unvaccinated on the grounds of religious beliefs, you’re putting other children at risk of potentially life threatening and positively avoidable diseases.
Vaccines work by using a weakened or dead part of a disease germ to stimulate the immune system into producing antibodies, according to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention. After an individual is vaccinated, they develop an immunity to that disease without having to actually be exposed to it.
The CDC validates the benefits of vaccines in its own research, and the World Health Organization affirms any possible adverse effects from vaccinations are mild, incredibly rare or scientifically rare. There is also no link between vaccinations and the development of autism spectrum disorder, despite a growing belief otherwise, according to the CDC.
“Not vaccinating your children can affect many other people, especially the most vulnerable populations, such as babies, the elderly or immunocompromised,” said Susannah Anderson, a social behavioral sciences professor at Temple University. “Choice is important when it comes to individual decisions, but the evidence supporting vaccines is so strong and established that there isn’t a sound argument against it.”
Despite strides in public health over the past few years, 45 out of 50 states either allow religious exemptions, “personal belief” exemptions or both for mandatory vaccinations, the Inquirer reported.
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among them.
In 2019, an estimated 1,282 cases of measles were reported, including 17 in Pennsylvania and 19 in New Jersey, according to the Inquirer. At Temple last spring, there were 186 reported cases of the mumps, including nine individuals who were not students or faculty at the university, The Temple News reported.
“You can see how quickly these things spread in close-knit communities,” said Quinn McHugh, a junior public health major and the co-president and secretary of Eta Sigma Gamma, a public health honor society chapter at Temple. “Like everyone is so interconnected at school, and think of all of the things that you pick up and you touch.”
Previously, Temple did not require students to be vaccinated, but following the outbreak, it currently mandates vaccination prematriculation, The Temple News reported.
“We do, unfortunately, allow religious and medical waivers,” said Mark Denys, director of Student Health Services. “We are following Pennsylvania state law, so we cannot go against it. When people fill out the waiver for religious reasons, we don’t verify or question them on it, but we do use pretty harsh and aggressive language. If you refuse to comply, you may be held out of class and quarantined to your house, and you are choosing to possibly endanger others.”
Although 82 percent of Americans support a public school requirement for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, according to a Jan. 7 study by the Pew Research Center, religious exemptions rose by 53 percent in the last five years, the Inquirer reported last August.
“If a child is participating in the public good that is public school, schools should have expectations in place that all kids must be vaccinated,” Anderson said.
While you have the freedom to decide whether you vaccinate your child, the real freedom is feeling safe sending your child to school without the fear that they’ll get sick. You can choose not to vaccinate your child, but the responsible and selfless choice is deciding to vaccinate your child for the sake of protecting other children who cannot be vaccinated.
“I don’t see any harm in helping yourself and others keep from getting sick,” McHugh said. “We have these for a reason, it’s here to help us.”