Student Well-Being

Preschool Vaccines Upset N.J. Parents

By Christina A. Samuels — November 17, 2008 1 min read

A new flu-shot requirement for New Jersey toddlers is serving as a rallying point for parents who would like the option to skip vaccinations for their children.

The New Jersey Public Health Council voted last December to make a yearly flu shot mandatory for children in state-licensed preschool and day-care facilities. The deadline to receive the shot is next month.

The flu-shot requirement was a step too far for many parents, said Charlotte Vandervalk, a Republican state assemblywoman. She is the primary sponsor of a bill that would create a “conscientious objection” exemption for vaccinations.

“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Ms. Vandervalk said.

An identical bill has been introduced in the state Senate. Both bills are in committee.

New Jersey, like most states, allows religious and medical exemptions for vaccination requirements. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 20 states also allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to immunizations because of a personal, moral, or other belief.

Robin Stavola of Colts Neck, N.J., protests at the Statehouse last month holding a photo of her daughter Holly, whose death she believes was caused by a vaccine.

The health council’s public hearings on the topic drew passionate parents, many of whom drew a link between vaccinations and autism.

Others argued that the vaccines themselves are unnecessary. Ms. Vandervalk said many diseases have been eliminated through proper sanitation. And, even if a family chooses not to have a child vaccinated, “that child may be at risk—no other [vaccinated] child would be at risk,” she said.

Much of the concern with vaccines centers around the use of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. Pediatric vaccines no longer contain it, but influenza vaccines still do. More thimerosal-free vaccines are becoming available for pediatric use, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Further, the CDC says many studies have shown no link between disabilities like autism and thimerosal.

The New Jersey health department has released a statement indicating its opposition to conscientious objection to vaccination requirements.

“Broad exemptions to mandatory vaccination weaken the entire compliance and enforcement structure,” the department said in a recent statement.

A version of this article appeared in the November 19, 2008 edition of Education Week

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