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The Danger of Personal-Belief Exemption

Parents have the right in many states to reject vaccinations for their children by submitting a form known as a "personal belief exemption." As a result, vaccination rates in some areas of Los Angeles now rival those in Chad or South Sudan ("Wealthy L.A. Schools' Vaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan's," The Atlantic, Sept. 16).  

I respect the decision by parents to do what they believe is best for their own children, but I draw the line when it places them at risk.  And that's exactly what is happening. The incidence of whooping cough and measles has soared ever since increasing numbers of parents have taken this opt-out route.  For example, some schools on the affluent West Side of Los Angeles have reported that up to 70 percent of parents fall into this category.

I don't understand why this policy exists in the first place.  When parents have prevented their children from getting medical attention because of religious reasons, the courts have held them criminally liable for whatever dire consequences ensue ("Oregon Baby May Go Blind Because of Faith-Healing Parents," abcnews.go.com, May 26, 2011).  Why are parents given more discretion when the issue is vaccination?  Their refusal is tantamount to child neglect.  Yet they are not prosecuted.

I wonder how these parents would feel if their own children contracted one of the diseases and became disabled or died? Would they still maintain that they did the right thing?  The irony is that most of the parents in West Los Angeles who reject vaccinations are highly educated and pride themselves on a healthy lifestyle.  I see them at the gym where I work out.  Nevertheless, they have bought into unproved allegations about the danger of vaccinations.  I'm glad that not all parents feel this way, or else we could have an epidemic.   

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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