Vaccines are a routine part of healthcare for most Americans, but some parents remain passionately opposed to childhood immunizations, despite reassurance from public health experts about their safety and value.
In the opinion pages of The New York Times, editors posed this question to a panel of experts including Kristen A. Feemster, MD, MPH, MSHPR, a pediatric infectious diseases physician and director of research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center: “Should parents no longer be allowed to get religious or philosophical exemptions from having their children immunized?”
The newspaper published the debate following a rare outbreak of measles in New York City that began in February.
All 50 states have school immunization requirements, but most grant religious exemptions, and 19 states allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to immunizations because of personal, moral, or other beliefs. Dr. Feemster supports the curtailment of such exemptions because some people, whether because of age or compromised immune systems, cannot receive vaccines.
“They depend on those around them to be protected,” Dr. Feemster wrote. “Vaccines aren’t the only situation in which we are asked to care about our neighbors. Following traffic laws, drug tests at work, paying taxes — these may go against our beliefs and make us bristle, but we ascribe to them because without this shared responsibility, civil society doesn’t work.”
Dr. Feemster emphasized that vaccines are safe and effective, but she recognized that a “vaccine confidence gap” persists that must be addressed consistently by the scientific and public health community. The Vaccine Education Center has multiple resources, including a vaccine mobile app, for parents and healthcare providers to develop a dialogue and stay up-to-date on vaccine news, research, and developments.