Anti-vaccine mom says “the devil” causes disease

I’ve written before about the anti-vaccine movement in America. About how we’re now seeing an increase in diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations, such as measles, chickenpox, and whooping cough. I’ve also weighed in on the spurious claim that vaccines cause autism.

This post is about the US and Croatian legal systems, and how each has responded to parents claiming the “right” to not vaccinate their children.

Vaccine-truthers in NYC

Recently a judge in New York City made a ruling against a group of anti-vaccine parents.

In NYC, parents are allowed to request that their unvaccinated children be allowed to attend public schools. A child is allowed to remain unvaccinated provided that the parent(s) have either provided a statement that their religious beliefs don’t allow the children to be vaccinated, or if they have a letter from a doctor giving a medical reason that the child shouldn’t be vaccinated. The letter then goes to the school board which can then either accept the child, or prevent him from attending. If an unvaccinated child is admitted, he must be sent home and kept home if there is a case of a disease in his school that he might be susceptible to, because of not being vaccinated.

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Vaccine via Shutterstock

With the recent upsurge in cases of measles, chickenpox, whooping cough and other communicable diseases, some of these unvaccinated children were prevented from attending school for a month at a time. Parents of the children sued, claiming that their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection under the law, were violated.

The parents also raised some other legal points. One of the parents in the suit stated her beliefs:

Ms. Check said she rejected vaccination after her daughter was “intoxicated” by a few shots during infancy, which she said caused an onslaught of food and milk allergies, rashes and infections.

Combined with a religious revelation she had during the difficult pregnancy, she said, the experience turned her away from medicine. Now she uses holistic treatments.

“Disease is pestilence,” Ms. Check said, “and pestilence is from the devil. The devil is germs and disease, which is cancer and any of those things that can take you down. But if you trust in the Lord, these things cannot come near you.”

The judge ruled against them. He cited a decision by the Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the government could require immunizations of unvaccinated people to help protect public health.

Vaccine-truthers in Croatia

Croatia recently took a more forceful tack. A group of about 10,000 Croatians signed a petition. They wanted to be able to NOT vaccinate their children. The petitioners felt that vaccination was a risk to their children’s health.

Croatia’s Constitutional Court heard the case and reached a decision. The Court said in its ruling:

“The child’s right to health is more than the rights of parents to the (wrong) choice.” All children must now receive shots for DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus), polio, haemophilus influenza B, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and tuberculosis.

Essentially, what the court said was that the parents’ beliefs that vaccinations could harm healthy children were incorrect, and that allowing the parents to withhold vaccinations from their children would lead to a risk of harming those children. That’s a pretty forceful statement. By by writing that decision, the Croatian court system has made the future of its children better and more healthy.

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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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