Thank you to Alison Chapman in Massachusetts for sharing this opinion piece that ran in the Boston Globe. Surprising that they ran it, but I learned a saying decades ago, "Don't punish progress," and this opinion piece is important information that could help thousands of families whose kids face expulsion from school.
By Sylvia Fogel, Andrew Zimmerman, Charlotte Mao, and John GaitanisUpdated July 10, 2021, 3:00 a.m.
COVID-19 vaccines illustrate the transformative power of vaccination to control infectious illness, and some schools have implemented mandates. In this context, the Massachusetts Legislature is considering two vaccination bills that would end or limit access to school, day care, or even college for the roughly 1 percent of Massachusetts children or young adults using a religious exemption. One of the bills would also allow vaccination of children without parental consent or knowledge — irrespective of age or capacity—and would also limit medical exemptions. While broad vaccine coverage is important to control infectious illness, it is imperative that citizens appreciate the destructive consequences of these bills.
With the highest vaccination rates in the country, Massachusetts is largely protected from disease outbreaks. Over the past decade, vaccination rates have improved and the religious exemption, used most often to forgo one or two vaccines, has held steady at roughly 1 percent. Simply put, there is no vaccination problem in Massachusetts. Excluding children from school risks creating larger, more serious, public health problems.
Losing access to education is a public health threat in its own right. Education improves health and is associated with lower mortality. Education is crucial for low-income and communities of color to mitigate disparities related to racism and socioeconomic disadvantage. This past year confirms the downsides of school loss, especially for the economically disadvantaged and Black and Latinx students. Special needs students and families would also be hard-hit. They are critically dependent on special education to teach communication, basic skills, and self-regulation. Special needs families have enormous challenges and higher rates of serious mental health symptoms, which require support. Marginalized communities need more educational support, not less.
Even more threatening to many parents, the Community Immunity Act would allow vaccination without parental consent, even if a child is young or intellectually disabled. Parents would never know, since medical records would be hidden unless court-ordered to be released or the child provided written consent. The provision is ripe for errors and abuses, and children experiencing adverse events might be unable to access appropriate medical care. We believe parents would be astonished by this possibility.