The story of the unvaccinated school children in Maryland was getting a lot of media attention last week. The headlines screamed that kids were being rounded up like cattle, parents summoned to court and potentially facing jail time, and that the parents must vaccinate their children or face expulsion.
In truth, the families are being called on the carpet on an administrative matter with the school district. These parents have the choice to either vaccinate their children or file an exemption. Either one is acceptable, they just must do one or the other. Let me be clear — vaccination is not mandatory in order to attend school. This may not be what you hear from other parents, the school or your pediatrician, but it is true. What is needed is for your child’s records to be up to date with the school so that when the health department comes calling, all the information is accounted for.
You can either file your child’s vaccination record or file an exemption. The kind of exemption available to you varies by state. Two states offer a waiver only if you have a medical reason not to get the shots, most offer both medical and religious exemptions, and a few offer the additional choice of a philosophical exemption.
Some in the anti-vaccination community are up at arms because it has been made out that the children were forcibly vaccinated. I’m not sure this is true (though if it was it wouldn’t be the first time). I do agree that tactics taken by officials involved in the matter have been heavy handed and that the media should have done a better job in clarifying the situation. The fear-mongering is uncalled for and there’s a need to make sure parents are fully informed of their options.
Obviously, the school district and other officials are looking at things from their own perspective. In part, they want to make sure the kids are in school so they don’t lose out on any funding. The onus is on the parents to seek out what’s right for their individual child and then comply with the law.