The back-to-school physical is an annual opportunity for public health officials and pediatricians to do more than encourage parents to give their children a growing list of vaccines. During this yearly “Back-to School Push” to vaccinate, how many parents take the time to become educated about the diseases and vaccines doctors are promoting?
The Perfect Time for Questions
HPV Vaccine: Recommended But Not Required
Despite all the controversy in the news over that particular vaccine, with doctors and public health officials insisting it’s safe2 and others insisting it was not fully tested before licensure and is causing too many reactions,3 4 5 it is important for parents to learn more before taking a child in for a pre-school physical. Since HPV vaccine was licensed in 2006, there have been many attempts by pharmaceutical company and other special interest lobbyists to mandate HPV for sixth grade attendance.6 7 So far, only Washington, D.C. and Virginia have HPV vaccine requirements for girls entering sixth grade. However, in both D.C. and Virginia, parents may “opt-out” and elect not to give the vaccine.
As noted by Dr. Denise Hunnell, arguments can be made both for and against the vaccine, but in the end, “parents have the right to weigh the risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine and make a decision based on their own unique situations. The state has offered no convincing argument to justify usurping parental rights and mandating HPV vaccination.”8
But Then There Are Other Laws…
Therefore, while the school policy might read something like, “Entry into 7th grade requires proof of compliance with all mandatory vaccinations,” it may not be made clear on school physical forms that exemptions are available, and it is unlikely that pediatricians will mention it during school physicals. While all 50 states require specified vaccines for students, there are legal exceptions for medical, religious or conscientious belief reasons – depending upon the state.9
All state vaccination laws allow medical exemptions but they must be written by a medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) and usually must conform to federally approved contraindications to vaccination, which are very narrow.10 Every state except two—Mississippi and West Virginia—allow religious belief exemptions, but requirements for proof of religious belief can vary from state to state. About one-third of the states (17) provide exemptions for conscientious or philosophical beliefs, but in several states (Washington, California), a medical doctor or other state-designated medical worker must sign the exemptions form.
NVIC.org: A Very Good Place to Start
Among many other resources available through NVIC are tools that allow parents to calculate vaccine ingredients, get suggestions for questions to ask pediatricians about vaccination and listings of other resources available to facilitate the search for information. NVIC encourages everyone to consult one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination or other health care decision.
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