When Wake Forest’s Susan West’s son (pictured middle right) was born, he was by all accounts a perfectly healthy baby boy. But his reaction to his first injections of the DTaP, Hib and rotavirus immunizations horrified her.
“He screamed — the most horrible screams and shook for hours. His eyes rolled back in his head. And even when he was looking at you, you could tell he wasn’t seeing you,” she remembers. “He was already at the stage where he would coo and make noises back to me when I talked to him. All of that stopped.”
“It shook me to the core,” she said.
Susan’s pediatrician refused to consider the response was a reaction to the vaccines.
“That kind of reaction was not listed on his handout — so he said it couldn’t possibly be a reaction to the shots,” she said.
Susan and her family left the practice. When she picked up her medical records, however, she was in for another shock — her pediatrician had not recorded her son’s reaction had even taken place.
The new pediatrician wasn’t hostile to the idea the incident had been a vaccine reaction. Without hesitation, he worked with Susan to create an alternative vaccination schedule that would keep her son safe.
“We were so very fortunate to find a doctor who listened to our concerns and worked with us,” Susan said. “My son is doing great. He only has a few developmental delays.”
Now, however, a handful of state senators want to take all of that away from Susan and anyone else like her.
Under newly filed Senate Bill 346, titled “Enact Stricter Immunization Requirements,” duly trained and licensed doctors would be denied the use of their medical training to decide what is in the best interest of a child. Instead, they would be rigidly held to nationally prescribed vaccination schedules.
But SB 346 goes a step further and would repeal the current exemption available for religious objections to vaccines.
In a press conference called after filing, primary sponsor of the bill Jeff Tarte (Mecklenberg) belittled privately held religious tenants saying there were only two groups he knew of that objected to vaccines, “Christian Scientists and the Taliban.”
Tarte pointed to West Virginia and Mississippi as examples of the only two states not having a religious waiver for vaccines.
“Following these other states makes sense,” he said.
What he did not mention, or suggest following, are the 17 states that allow for exemptions based on philosophical, personal or conscientiously held beliefs.
North Carolina has never had an exemption based on philosophical grounds, but that doesn’t bother Susan.
“I believe vaccines save lives. I get very resentful when I’m lumped in with the anti-vaxxer group,” Susan said.
“My husband and I have had all our vaccines because we want to keep our son safe. We homeschool. There has got to be room for people like us, who just need to space them out. This is a bad bill. It borders on terrifying,” she said. “Knowing what I saw (when he reacted) and to think that I’d be forced to do it again terrifies me.”
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Tarte and fellow sponsors Tamara Barringer (Wake) and Terry Van Duyn (Buncombe), who are not doctors, have said it’s not their intention to remove the decision-making process out of the hands of parents and doctors.
But their bill does just that.
SB 346 is tied to all children attending school (K-12) and does not exclude private or home schools. As education is compulsory, it will apply to all children.
Additionally, it repeals G.S. 130A-157, the religious exemption, so it also applies to anyone attending college or university in the state.
SB 346 adds requirements for annual flu vaccines and does not allow doctors or patients to skip years when the vaccine is essentially ineffective, like the current flu vaccine.
SB 346 goes way past West Virginia’s and Mississippi’s vaccine requirements by compelling not just the flu vaccine, but also the pneumococcal, meningitis, rotovirus, Hepatitis A and any future immunizations the CDC may recommend.
While Mississippi may have the nation’s highest vaccination rate and strictest laws, it actually requires the least vaccines, five less than Tarte is proposing.
SB 346 does not specify how vaccine requirements will be enforced. There are cases, in other states, where children have been forcibly removed from homes and vaccinated without parental consent. Is this where our state is headed?
Current state law allows for quarantining children who are unimmunized for any reason in the event of a vaccine-preventable disease. Unimmunized children aren’t dangerous just because they exist.
This bill is simply unsupportable. The trust that must exist between patients and doctors must be inviolable. And the state should never be the determiner of what is or isn’t a bona fide religious belief.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court has consistently agreed on that issue.
SB 346 is not a bill that addresses public health policy in a healthy way.
It is a bill that needs to be left behind in committee.
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It’s impossible to know what Susan’s first doctor was using as a guide to vaccine reactions. Encephalopathy is listed by the CDC as a potential contraindication to pertussis-containing vaccines, like the DTaP.
Additionally, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 requires doctors and other vaccine providers to report serious health problems following vaccines to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS).
Reporting a reaction to VAERS is not a declaration of causality and is considered unverified. However, the U.S. Government, including the CDC, collects this information and uses it as a part of its decision-making process concerning vaccines.
If a doctor refuses to report a potential reaction to an immunization, parents or caregivers can submit the report themselves at wonder.cdc.gov/vaers.html.