Before the first measles vaccine was introduced, there were 4 million cases, and about 500 deaths from measles reported in the US each year. As a result of the widespread use of the MMR vaccine, the number of measles cases reported in 2004 in the US dropped to just 37. The effort to wipe out measles through vaccination in other countries has been credited with a reduction of 70 percent in the number of cases reported worldwide since 2001.
Based upon decades of experience, the medical establishment believes the MMR vaccine to be safe for almost all children over the age of one. The typical side effects, including a fever or rash, appear in less than 15% of children, and are typically mild and temporary. Nevertheless, parents have a legal right to opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their child provided that they can satisfy the conditions for an exemption set by laws in their state. In addition to exempting children with certain specific conditions which put them at medical risk, an exemption can also be obtained in 48 states based upon a parent’s religious objections, and in 20 states based upon a parent’s personal or philosophical beliefs.
The level of parental opposition varies depending upon the seriousness of the disease the vaccine immunizes against, and the safety record of the vaccine. That is why many parents who have opted out of the MMR vaccine have insisted that their be child immunized against polio.
Some parents also insist that vaccines they approve be given to their child one at a time, rather than ganged up in a single multiple formula, or be given simultaneously with other injections. They are aware that their child’s body will have its own reaction to each vaccine, and are concerned they that if given simultaneously, they could combine unpredictably to harm their child’s health. If there is a negative reaction, it will also be difficult to determine which of the vaccines administered at the same time was responsible.
Their problem is complicated by the fact that the vaccines that combination immunizations, such as the MMR, have replaced, are no longer available individually. That means that if a parent wants to immunize their child against measles, their only choice is the MMR vaccine.
There are more diseases today for which childhood vaccination is now mandatory, including influenza and hepatitis. As a result, children are now required to receive as many as 24 shots by the age of two, and up to 5 shots in a single visit to the pediatrician.
Parents who have serious concerns about the safety of vaccines believe that all schools should respect their right to opt out. However, many schools in the Jewish community do not want to be bothered. They simply assume that the law would not require all children to receive these vaccinations if they weren’t safe, and insist that every new student receive all their required shots as a precondition for registration.
One parent who, after researching the topic for himself, decided that vaccines now in use present “too much risk for me to force on my child,” has complained in a letter to the Jewish Press about the major obstacles he has encountered from Jewish schools over this issue.
He understands that his is a minority opinion. Nevertheless, he asks that school administrators respond to his concerns with more “civility and an acceptance that there are two sides to this story; that people who do not vaccinate their children have very justifiable reasons for their concern. It is hard enough without having [to deal with] others who have not done the research and yet are more strident than the government, doctors or the [vaccine] manufacturers. When a Jewish school says, ‘We don’t care what the law is. Unless your child is vaccinated you can not send your child here,’ something is wrong.”
There were always those who questioned the safety of the vaccines. In the late 1990’s, concerns were raised about the possibility of more serious side effects due to other ingredients added to these vaccines, specifically thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative. In 1999, various federal public health agencies and the American Academy of Pediatrics asked vaccine makers to find a substitute and eliminate thimerosal from their vaccines. The vaccine makers gradually complied, but there are other suspicious “adjuvants” being added to today’s vaccines, such as aluminum and squalene.