1024px-VaccineThe Des Moines Register ran an editorial on Saturday calling for the end of the religious exemption for vaccines.  Iowa law currently requires children to have eight different vaccinations before they can be enrolled into school and day care, but allow certain medical and religious exemptions.

This whole debate is a mixed bag for me.

On one hand there is no doubt vaccinations have been effective in eliminating diseases such as polio, small pox, etc.  They have worked.  The public health component to this debate is a strong one, and those who choose not to have their children immunized benefit from the majority of the population who have been immunized and have had their children immunized.

This has a personal element for me when my son had cancer and his white blood cell counts were in the toilet we were concerned about children who were not immunized being around him, but the same could be said about people who had a cold or the flu for that matter.

Then on the other hand – this is a liberty issue, and there is a growing segment of the population who are concerned about the long-term risks vaccines could pose for some children.  One concern is a potential link to autism.  Cases of autism have grown exponentially, but much of that growth is attributed to awareness, not vaccines.  So I personally don’t put much stock into those arguments, but I’ll admit that I haven’t done adequate research.  I assume the same for the Des Moines Register’s editorial board even though they like to paint themselves as experts about everything they write.

That’s not to say there are not risks associated with vaccines and one will have to decide whether or not the risks outweigh the benefits.  Most doctors and public health officials will tell you that they do.

Vaccinating our children wasn’t even a topic of debate for my wife and I.  We just did it.

Whether or not there is a link to autism or not is really not a topic I want to venture into because, as I’ve already stated, I’ve not done adequate research.  What I do see, as evidenced by the Register’s editorial, is the tension that exists between liberty and statism within this particular debate.

The Des Moines Register‘s editorial board once again defaults to its statist position, and it seems, to me, to be an overreaction to 120 cases of measles being reported.

Today the state’s religious exemption is a free-for-all. Parents who consider celebrities, politicians and charlatans their “religious” leaders are able to use it.

For this, the people of Iowa can thank the state’s administrative rules, crafted by state workers and boards to implement the law. These rules make no mention of a “recognized” religion that objects to vaccines. Neither does the form filled out by parents. The rules do not reflect the language and intent of the Iowa Legislature. The generous interpretation allows parents with no legitimate, religious basis to ignore a law intended to protect public health and safety.

Administrative rules can be changed. Better yet, lawmakers could nix the religious exemption from Iowa Code. Mississippi and West Virginia allow exemptions only for medical conditions. A parent’s personal, religious, or philosophical beliefs don’t matter, and state officials have stood by the strict guidelines. They know vaccines save lives and protect everyone.

Instead of compelling people to have their children vaccinated it would be far better to have a public and frank discussion on the benefits and risks of vaccines.  Also this is a conversation parents can (and should) have with their pediatricians.  Taking away religious liberty for those who claim it (and I highly doubt the Register looked into the merit of each of the 8,000 exemptions) is a bridge too far.

Let’s not let religious liberty get thrown under the bus in this debate.  We instead should look for answers that reasonably accommodates religious liberty as well as concerns about public health during an outbreak.

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