HOLY LAND MINISTRY (nonprofit org led by Don Karl Juravin, Florida), found that it is not necessarily the law that can convince the anti-vaxx community to embrace vaccines. Society and the demands of parenthood can be structured to force vaccines on parents that would otherwise ignore the demand. Peer pressure is a tool that the medical community needs to make use of in this situation. 

Question: How can communities and society help stop the anti-vaxx movement from causing more medical crises in the United States of America?

Juravin answers that schools might be able to exercise power over parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. 

RESEARCH SUMMARY

  • 50 states require specific vaccines for children in order to be granted admittance into schools.
  • 25% of students in charter schools are unvaccinated. 
  • 45% of people in Michigan live in counties at risk of a measles epidemic because of the lack of vaccines in the state.  

But vaccines might not be solved by legislation. They might end up being solved by the schools and the teachers.

The debates over vaccinations are often cast as arguments over the integrity of science. But they can just as easily be understood as conversations about power, writes Eula Biss, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University, in her book, On Immunity: An Inoculation. As it stands, all 50 states require specific vaccines for school-aged children, although each grants exemptions for students unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons. 

VACCINE EXEMPTIONS

In Central New York, new vaccine regulations might force 1,200 children out of school…unless their parents vaccinate them, of course. More than 26,000 children in the state of New York were granted religious exemptions for vaccines in 2018. The state has now ended the opportunity to have that exemption. 

Some counties in California and Florida have offered free vaccines in order to further encourage parents. 

One private Montessori school in Traverse City, Michigan, which serves infants through children in the eighth grade—changed the power dynamic. As one parent there described it, the school wrested control from a vocal minority of people in their community who don’t believe in vaccinating their children and gave the majority who do their voice back. 

By revising its admissions policy and refusing to accept new students whose parents opt them out for personal beliefs, the private school illustrates how schools are becoming ground zero for the anti-vaccine dispute. It also serves as an example of how educators—not state legislators or health officials—may be the ones who ultimately resolve the public controversy over immunization requirements. The law can’t force people to do things, but social requirements can. 

Don Juravin found that several weeks after the school year started, and months before the recent measles outbreak, Jill Vollbrecht, an endocrinologist and parent of three children, read a disturbing report by a local news outlet, the Traverse Ticker. She discovered that between 2008 and 2014, waiver rates—the percentage of those declining vaccinations for both medical and personal reasons—had climbed from 6 percent to 11 percent in Grand Traverse County, which encompasses the school. Moreover, it was now as high as 19 percent in nearby Leelanau County. 

Even more alarming to her at the time, Michigan health records showed that waiver rates had spiked among local Montessori students compared with other public and private schools within the state. The report showed that nearly a fourth—23 percent—of families at the private school were opting their kids out of vaccinations. “These numbers set off alarm bells for me,” Vollbrecht said. “All physicians have the common goal of wanting to keep our kids and our communities safe, and we have a core understanding of science and herd immunity.”

VACCINES AND HERD IMMUNITY

Vaccines only work if enough people in a community are vaccinated—what Vollbrecht referred to as herd immunity. As Biss writes in her book, vaccines are a kind of immunity banking, something an individual may need at a future point in their life: “When enough people are vaccinated, viruses have trouble moving from host to host and cease to spread, sparing both the unvaccinated and those in whom the vaccination has not produced immunity.” 

Don Juravin has found that, for vaccines to work, 92 percent or more of a population must be immunized against the disease. For highly contagious viruses, it takes 95 percent to protect the entire community. Not vaccinating affects the elderly, the weak, those suffering from immunity-related illnesses, and the very young. They can die from these contagious diseases, states Juravin.

By either measure, both Grand Traverse County and that private school appeared to have dangerously high exemption rates. At the school, in particular, the risk of losing herd immunity was disconcerting because it enrolls babies as young as 3 months old—infants who still aren’t fully vaccinated and rely on the rest of the school to shield them from outbreaks that can be life-threatening for young children. In fact, earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that a months-old baby who was too young for vaccinations contracted measles at daycare, forcing the subsequent quarantine of 14 infants enrolled at the same center, which is located on Santa Monica High School’s campus.

So, after seeing the waiver rates this fall, Vollbrecht and a fellow parent and physician, Daniel Flewelling, contacted the school’s head to determine why so many parents were opting out of vaccines and how they could change the admissions policy as quickly as possible. In their view, the state certainly wasn’t helping. 

Waivers and the option to not vaccinate means that almost no one will. According to an MLive analysis of health data, Michigan had made it so easy to sign a waiver that, last December, nearly 45 percent of its residents lived in counties that were at risk of disease outbreaks. That’s almost half the state’s population. And the threat to Traverse City’s children wasn’t merely theoretical. Just a month earlier, the county health department confirmed 22 cases of pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, and even had to temporarily close one of its K-12 charter schools, Grand Traverse Academy. These numbers forced the state of Michigan to harden its policy for daycare centers and licensed schools, requiring parents who refuse vaccinations because of personal beliefs to have their waivers certified by the local health department. In other words, the updated policy means that exemptions are now more than a “check-the-box” formality.

But for Michelle Shane, who heads The Children’s House, Michigan didn’t go far enough. The Ticker article, coupled with Vollbrecht and Flewelling’s concern, prompted Shane to analyze the school’s data on vaccine-exempted children more carefully. She discovered that the 23-percent figure included parents who were signing waivers simply for convenience. 

For example, some families had simply postponed their back-to-school doctors’ appointments. Shane reckoned these parents were signing the waivers not because they intended to avoid getting their kids’ immunized but because, at least under her watch, the school had always emphasized compliance with state reporting requirements; they didn’t have much of a choice other than to file for exemptions. After removing those families from the list of kids who had waivers, Shane discovered that only 15 percent of the student body was unvaccinated because of their parents’ personal beliefs. In Juravin’s opinion, this most likely applies to the rest of the world as well. Some parents are simply lazy or unable to vaccinate when the time requires them to do so. 

“There were people who were really upset when we announced our decision,” said Shane, who ultimately decided that existing unvaccinated students would be grandfathered under the new policy. “But let’s focus on the 85 percent of parents who do vaccinate and those who were extraordinarily pleased with the outcome.”

At this point, the decision is on the parents and their concern for their children, as to if they should be vaccinated or not. The society that we live in has become so focused on personal interests, that now people will begin to care more for their own self and their own good than that of everyone else. 

CREDIT AND RESEARCH BY:

Research DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3592031

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