Vaccines are increasingly controversial. Like most topics, you’ll find people coming from various angles on the issue. Some are staunchly pro-vaccine. Others are staunchly against them. And then there’s those that fall somewhere in between. It’s unfortunate that discussion of vaccines often slips into negativity, insults, and name calling.
After hitting a low at 89% for an immunization rate of kindergartners in the state during the 2014-2015 school year, a collaborative effort began taking place between government officials and schools to increase that number. And after two years of working together, the number has now increased to 91%– still short of the goal of 95%.
In a document prepared by the North Dakota State University Center for Immunization Research and Education, they cite Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office as a key player in reversing declining vaccination rates:
"One important event happened after the commencement of the project that had an impact on results and recommendations. In October 2015, the Assistant Attorney General of North Dakota addressed school superintendents and reviewed North Dakota’s immunization policies. This presentation called attention to the ability of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) to withhold funds from schools that were allowing children who were noncompliant with immunization requirements to attend school. The legal liability of non-enforcing schools in the event of an outbreak was also discussed." (Emphasis Added)
According to the North Dakota Department of Health, at the time of the Assistant AG’s address, the law in North Dakota mandated that "children must be excluded from school if they are not compliant with school-required immunizations within 30 days of enrollment".
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler says that some schools were not aware of the exclusion rule, but afterwards committed to enforcing it– which isn’t surprising considering the fact a threat was made to withhold funds for failure to do so. Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, the 30 day rule will be standardized to a deadline of October 1st.
In order to be compliant with state law, parents opposed to vaccinations can sign an exemption form— meaning they can opt out of vaccinating their children for medical or personal/religious beliefs. As of the 2016-2017 school year, the exemption rate had reached 3.14%– which is over six times what it was in the year 2000.
With all of this as a backdrop, The North Dakota Department of Health utilized these issues as reason to call for a study of immunization policies and practices in North Dakota:
"To better understand North Dakota’s decreasing immunization rates, increasing exemption rates, and the large number of students with an unknown immunization status, the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) engaged the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Center for Immunization Research and Education (CIRE) to study immunization policies and practices in the state. The CIRE was tasked with surveying immunization stakeholders about their beliefs regarding school and child care immunizations and exemptions in North Dakota. The CIRE was also tasked with researching other states’ school and child care immunization enforcement and exemption laws and policies.
"The stakeholder engagement process was done for three reasons:
1) To gain an understanding of the current state of immunization and exemption attitudes and opinions in North Dakota,
2) To facilitate meaningful participation in in-depth discussions on current immunization and exemption policies and practices in North Dakota, and
3) To make recommendations for potential policy, rule, or practice/process changes to the current immunization and exemption system in North Dakota."
Among those consulted as part of the study were some North Dakota Legislators. And some of their comments in regards to those who refuse to immunize were quite insulting. In some quotations, parents were presumptuously referred to as "lackadaisical", "procrastinators", and "coming from the position of ignorance". While names were not attached to statements, you can read them on pgs. 42-43 here.
The North Dakota State University Center for Immunization Research and Education concluded their study with a list of recommendations. As a result, the North Dakota Department of Health recently announced changes to child care and school immunization requirements that are a bit more stringent. You can see them
here and here.
While I recognize that the overwhelming majority of parents vaccinate their children, does that mean that those who refuse to do so somehow don’t have the best interests of their children in mind? Are they really deserving of labels such as those spouted off by some of our own Legislators?
Last April, I wrote about an interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on the subject of vaccines. In that interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Carlson expressed his belief that, "You ought to be allowed to ask legitimate questions without being attacked." And he’s right. The interview is worth your time to watch:
Despite what some people would like us to believe, the verdict isn’t completely in on the intricacies of today’s vaccination schedule and its affect on overall health. In some ways, it’s kind of a mixed bag and many people still have a lot of questions. Such questions are perfectly understandable. Especially when considering cases like those featured in this video:
What I find troubling is the tone in which some of these things are being done here in North Dakota; the Attorney General’s Office/DPI essentially threatening to withhold funds from schools, Legislators making insulting remarks about parents, and even a recommendation from the study that exemption forms not be accessible to parents at schools or on the internet. Such things come across as heavy-handed tactics.
I would prefer that we foster an environment in which questions can be asked and answers can be found. One in which we recognize that concerns may be legitimate. An environment in which it is understood that parents are responsible for these types of decisions for their children, not the State.
With an increased focus on enforcement, I’m left to wonder just how far some would be willing to push the issue? Is this just the beginning with more stringent proposals coming in the future? After all, current "compliance" in North Dakota doesn’t mean a child is vaccinated.
Former Texas Congressman and OB-GYN Ron Paul once wrote:
"If I were still a practicing ob-gyn and one of my patients said she was not going to vaccinate her child, I might try to persuade her to change her mind. But, if I were unsuccessful, I would respect her decision. I certainly would not lobby the government to pass a law mandating that children be vaccinated even if the children’s parents object.
"If government can mandate that children receive vaccines, then why shouldn’t the government mandate that adults receive certain types of vaccines? And if it is the law that individuals must be vaccinated, then why shouldn’t police officers be empowered to physically force resisters to receive a vaccine? If the fear of infections from the unvaccinated justifies mandatory vaccine laws, then why shouldn’t police officers fine or arrest people who don’t wash their hands or cover their noses or mouths when they cough or sneeze in public? Why not force people to eat right and take vitamins in order to lower their risk of contracting an infectious disease? These proposals may seem outlandish, but they are no different in principle from the proposal that government force children to be vaccinated."
I couldn’t agree more.
If you’d like to look at opposing views on vaccines, you can look at the websites of two non-profit organizations here and here. And feel free to express your views on the issue by commenting on our Facebook page.