Vaccines – The Need For Informed Consent

I was discussing my passion for educating people about the need to get vaccinated with my wife. We were specifically talking about vaccination exemptions in light of the pertussis epidemic in California.

I explained how two of my coworkers felt that having the right to opt out was important. She said that since I was such a supporter of critical thinking I should be supporting people’s right to opt out.

I told her that my coworkers held common misconceptions about vaccines, like they cause autism and brain damage, or that there is mercury in them and since they were misinformed they couldn’t make an informed decision about it.

I believe that more needs to be done to educate the public about the facts about vaccines. Another thing that needs to happen is that obtaining an exemption should be made with informed consent. For example, here is the current rules regarding vaccine exemption in California:

“Each student in California is required to submit a “California School Immunization Record” to be admitted to school (California Health and Safety Code Section 12-375).

On the reverse of the form is the following statement: “I hereby request exemption of the child, named in the front, from the immunization requirements for school/child care center entry because these immunizations are contrary to my beliefs. I understand that in case of an outbreak of any of these diseases, the child may be temporarily excluded from school for his/her protection.” To exercise the exemption, you simply sign the immunization record under this statement.

There is another exemption which is available, although it is more difficult to exercise because a medical opinion is necessary. If immunization is “contraindicated”, that is, considered to be potentially harmful to the child for medical reasons, an exemption is granted upon the filing with of “a written statement by a licensed physician to the effect that the physical condition of the child is such, or medical circumstances relating to the child are such, that immunization is not considered safe, indicating the specific nature and probable duration of the medical condition or circumstances that contraindicate immunization…” (California Health and Safety Code Section 120370).”

Why is it so much easier to get an exemption just because it is contrary to your beliefs, but you have to jump though hoops to get a medical exemption? Shouldn’t both require the same kind of standards?

I believe that if you wish to have an exemption because it is contrary to your beliefs, you should at a minimum be required to read, sign and have witnessed, an information form explaining the the real, proven risks of vaccines, along with the facts of the consequences of not vaccinating, such as the symptoms of the diseases that the vaccines in question are designed to fight and the facts about the injuries and mortality rates associated with each disease. This would be real, informed consent.

Yes, people have a right to consider not vaccinating their children, but that right can only go so far. It must be weighted against the public health risk of the reduction of herd immunity in each community.

We need a major public health initiative to educate the public about the real risks and benefits of vaccines. People need to be educated about the real risks of the vaccine verses the real risks of the disease itself because the risks of injury and death from the disease is far, far greater than the risks of the vaccine.

For information about the vaccines and requirements of exemptions where you live you can check out the following sources:

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Immunization Action Coalition

The Centers For Disease Control National Vaccine Program Office
Immunization Laws

The Centers for Disease Control – Vaccines & Immunizations


5 thoughts on “Vaccines – The Need For Informed Consent

  1. This is a subject that grates under my skin. I *understand* that some people are skeptical about vaccinations. I used to administer them, and was asked ALL sorts of questions by many different parents. Some of the concerns voiced were *very* real, and stemmed from a fear of harming their child (as opposed to ‘I don’t believe in vaccines’ – though I heard a few of those, too). My most common statement to those parents was ‘The risk of the vaccine is far lower than the risk of the illness it was designed to prevent.’ I would encourage parents to actually research the illnesses (I provided pamphlets, of course, but nothing works quite as well as when people research the information and learn for themselves) – to look at what happens when outbreaks of things like rubella happen. How populations of vulnerable people (usually the very young and the very old) are impacted by those outbreaks. It’s not a scare tactic to urge people to be aware of the history that necessitated vaccinations.

  2. “I told her that my coworkers held common misconceptions about vaccines, like they cause autism and brain damage, or that there is mercury in them and since they were misinformed they couldn’t make an informed decision about it.”
    But then you are the misinformed one, because if you look at vaccine court cases won, there are plenty that were for brain damage and even autism.

    • And those cases are far, far outweighed by the deaths that are caused when people aren’t vaccinated and get the disease that the vaccine is supposed to prevent. Everything has risks, it is a matter of choosing the option with the lesser risk. In the case of vaccines, the risks associated with the disease its self are far greater than the risks of the vaccines themselves.

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