Parents believe that this New Jersey requirement is a major encroachment on parental rights to make medical and other decisions for their own children. Parents also cite the potential dangers of vaccines for some children.
Many flu vaccines and some meningitis vaccines contain the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. This is the first time that any state has mandated a vaccine containing mercury since the federal government adopted the policy in 1999 of encouraging vaccines to be mercury-free "as soon as possible."
The Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women to avoid eating even small amounts of fish with high mercury content. But New Jersey is now demanding that 6-month-old babies be given potential mercury vaccines if they spend even one day a week in day care.
Another toxic substance, formaldehyde, is also present in the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and flu vaccines.
New Jersey allows exemptions from vaccines for medical or religious reasons, but some parents claim that the process of claiming an exemption is made as difficult as possible.
In Prince George's County, Md., officials used the heavy hand of government to force vaccinations. Claiming that 2,300 out of 131,000 public school students had not received their hepatitis B and chickenpox vaccines, the state began what the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons called a "heavy-handed vaccine roundup."
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey intimidated parents with what he called "legal action." He arranged to have letters sent to all parents who were "out of compliance" demanding that they must attend a court hearing where they would receive a verbal reprimand and their children would be vaccinated, presumably forcibly.
The letter directly threatened parents: "Unexcused absences by your child may subject you to a criminal charge." Few parents knew they could apply for medical or religious exemptions, and many believed they faced jail or heavy fines of $50 a day.
A decent respect for parental rights over medical treatment imposed on their own children should require that states allow vaccine exemptions for philosophical and conscientious reasons, in addition to medical and religious reasons. A few states do but, unfortunately, not New Jersey or Maryland.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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