WhiteCoat

Death By “Unvaccination”

child-vaccinationAn article recently published in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune describes an outbreak of Hemophilus Influenza B (HiB) in Minnesota.

There were five kids diagnosed with the disease last year and one 7 month old died from the disease – the first death from the disease in Minnesota since 1991.

The article noted how Hemophilus influenza is “a disease that had been nearly wiped out across the United States after a vaccine that is given to babies in the first months of life was introduced in the early 1990s.”

This CNN article also notes that “Before vaccines became widely used, about 20,000 HiB cases were reported each year in the country. After children began receiving the vaccinations in the early 1990s, CDC officials said, there was a 99 percent drop in cases.”

Yup, you guessed it.

Three of the five kids, including the 7-month-old who died, “had not been immunized because their parents did not want them vaccinated.” One of the other kids hadn’t received all doses of the vaccination, and the last child had an immune deficiency – making it less likely that the immunization would work.

Should parents who fail to take steps to prevent a largely preventable illness be held accountable if their children suffer a bad outcome?

As an aside, does anyone know the specifics of the “religious exemption” that some parents use to avoid vaccinating their children? Isn’t that kind of like stating that my religion prevents me from paying taxes?

31 Responses to “Death By “Unvaccination””

  1. throckmorton says:

    There has also been measles outbreaks in Long Island, our area has seen whppoing cough on the increase as well as mumps. I cant imagine what will happen if polio gets loose again.

  2. Pharmgirl says:

    I think it varies from state to state. I don’t have kids so I have no first-hand knowledge of this, but I hear that where I live, parents can just say “vaccines are against my religion” and not go into any further detail.

  3. sleepyjosh says:

    IIIRC, 48 states allow for “religious exemptions”. I think it was originally intended for religions along the lines of the Jehova’s Witnesses (etc.)–but sa you can probably guess, tehre are some in the anti-vax crowd who use this.
    Here’s a decent link on the subject: http://www.vaccinesafety.edu/cc-exem.htm

    Should parents who fail to take steps to prevent a largely preventable illness be held accountable if their children suffer a bad outcome?

    That’s a good question. What kind of penalty would said parents be foreced to incurr?

    • WhiteCoat says:

      What would happen to a parent if their child was “naturally” infected with neisseria meningiditis and the parents refused antibiotics because they were full of toxins and didn’t allow the child to develop a proper immune response?
      Negligent homicide?
      Manslaughter?

      • Nurse K says:

        The laws are different when there is an immediate risk of death. The state can intervene when this occurs and appoint a neutral someone to act in the child’s best interest if necessary. If the child dies due to medical neglect, that would be manslaughter in all likelihood.

        With vaccination, the parent is really playing roulette with preventable illnesses, but there is still little chance of the child getting any of the illnesses due to herd immunity vs. a very real risk of death with something like bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis may kill you fast enough and have a high enough success rate of killing you even WITH appropriate treatment where it wouldn’t even be manslaughter, however. Usually these manslaughter charges are brought against people who let their child die of type I diabetes or something like that which is more insidious where treatment prevents death nearly 100% of the time.

  4. Max Kennerly says:

    I don’t mean to be the troll of WhiteCoat, but you asked a legal question.

    Vaccination is generally the province of the states. Every state except for West Virginia (ironic, no?) has some form of religious exemption for the mandatory vaccination laws, with differing requirements. Some states allow a parent to simply file a statement of dissent, while other states require a more specific description as to how their religion opposes vaccination. Some of the states also require that the beliefs be “sincere.”

    The “religious exemption” thus arises entirely by statute, and so can be rescinded at any time by act of the legislature and executive.

    Back in 1905 the Supreme Court upheld a mandatory smallpox vaccination law in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, and it seems unlikely the Court today would recognize a constitutional right to reject vaccination. Then again, the Court has (long after Jacobson) recognized a fundamental right to raise one’s children as they choose, a right which could arguably extend to vaccination, though I doubt the Court would go that far — the Court usually recognizes very broad powers when it comes to public health.

  5. William the Coroner says:

    It varies, WC. Some folks are disturbed that forty years ago the vaccines were started in cell lines that came from therapeutic abortions. Some folks claim that they are Hindu, jainist, or vegan and that cells grown with bovine serum are against their religious principles.

    The laws are vague, and vary from state to state.

  6. white coat can I join your religion..kinda like THAT religious tenet.

  7. paul says:

    i don’t know about you, but i’m not looking forward to my first crash airway on a kid with hib epiglottitis

  8. GuitarGirlRN says:

    This issue is one that makes me almost homicidal with rage. I was reading some articles about the measles outbreak in California, requiring three-week quarantines, and the suffering of several babies who were too young to have received the vaccine (typically given at age 1). It was spread by a child whose parents did not vaccinate him because they believe that the vaccines are more harmful than the disease, and that “herd immunity” will protect them.
    It makes me insane–most of the parents of these children were vaccinated with the exact same vaccines that they are decrying right now, and those evil vaccines allowed them to grow up healthy and happy. These parents don’t remember the kids with polio and didn’t have any friends who died of diseases that are completely preventable with vaccines. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

    • TDB says:

      We had a similar situation in my home state when I was in high school (a kid flew into the state w/ measels) and they ended up revaccinating all the students in the urban areas where people were likely to be exposed. The state paid for it so it did not cost the parents. I know there was a form you had to take home to get your parents to fill out for permission, but since I was 15 I did not care. They did the same thing for Hep A & B. It costs the state (not a poor state though), but I think more parents were willing to let their children get the vaccinations because it did not cost them than they would have otherwise. I felt sorry for the nurses and such administering the shots though, 1200+ shots a day at some of those schools…

    • Brent says:

      “…almost homicidal with rage”

      With all due respect, this is scary.

      “…most of the parents of these children were vaccinated with the exact same vaccines that they are decrying right now, and those evil vaccines allowed them to grow up healthy and happy.”

      Exactly the same? Same ingredients? Really? This just doesn’t seem likely.

      Also, where’s the evidence substantiating that is was a specific vaccine(s) that enabled the “…happy and happy”? Is it not possible that this could have occurred without those?

  9. CrankyProf says:

    I’m with Guitar Girl. This shit makes me want to punch a smug, self-righteous, brain-dead hippie.

  10. Christine says:

    We have a guy on my unit right now trying to die from influenza. We’re all pretty convinced he’ll be successful.

  11. mogi says:

    Sure these parents are idiots, but its more constructive for us to try to understand their mindset (fear of establishment, prone to conspiracy theories, scientifically illiterate, over-protective) rather than hurl opprobrium or suggest there should be legal accountability. These parents are most certainly NOT negligent, ignorant and stubborn yes, but not negligent.

    • WhiteCoat says:

      Understanding a mindset that doesn’t follow rational thought does nothing to resolve the issue, though.
      Society can’t just say it’s “OK to drink the Kool Aid” because Jenny McCarthy says so.
      The issue is how to change the behavior to that of a socially conscious individual.
      Are we going to use the same logic for saying that it’s OK not to use antibiotics for meningitis? Or that it’s OK to feed a child a diet that is detrimental to his or her health?

    • Brent says:

      “Sure these parents are idiots…”

      While this might make you feel better, for say, 12 seconds, it tends to alienate the very audience of minds you wish to change.

      “…more constructive for us to try to understand their mindset…”

      Agreed. I know several of them who I’d describe as both over-protective and distrustful of various organizations (and with very good reason).

  12. Nurse K says:

    Minnesota lets you have a “philosophical” objection to getting vaccinated which requires a notorized letter explaining your objection in order to attend public schools. Note that a philosophical objection is different than a religious or a medical objection. For the religious objection, I believe your notorized document has to explain why one’s religion precludes vaccination. You can’t just say “religious exemption” and leave it at that. Obviously, if you don’t want to send your kids to public schools (ie you want to home school), you don’t have to defend your position to anyone nor vaccinate your kids.

    So, I guess, the parents shouldn’t really be held liable when the state has a special law, however stupid, permitting them to put their children and other children at risk. Probably losing their child is enough, I would assume.

  13. WhiteCoat says:

    I don’t think that losing a child should be sufficient “punishment.” What about the other children in the family, if any? Is it OK to similarly risk their lives as more “punishment” to the parents?
    What if my child dies because she is exposed to an unvaccinated child? One of my kids has an IgA deficiency and she just got over a mild case of varicella despite having received the vaccine – she can’t mount an immune response. Why should she be punished for conscious but irrational beliefs of others?
    If you want to change behavior, you can do so with a stick or with a carrot. The carrot hasn’t worked.

    • Brent says:

      “What if my child dies because she is exposed to an unvaccinated child?”

      First, this would have to be proven. From what I understand, this is very difficult, if not impossible.

      Second, your child wouldn’t die due to mere exposure itself. He/she MAY die from any complications that MAY result from contracting it.

      “One of my kids has an IgA deficiency and she just got over a mild case of varicella despite having received the vaccine – she can’t mount an immune response.”

      So, the very vaccine that implied immunity failed to deliver this immunity. How is this not a case of a product not delivering as expected?

  14. Nurse K says:

    From what I’m reading, some states allow civil suits for things like this, but, obviously, the ethical argument is moreso preserving individual rights vs. rights of others to be protected from undue harm/suffering. I tend to think vaccination should be mandated for everyone, but I know how crayzees are, and crayzees will find a way to get an exemption.

    As long as the states allow people to object for whatever reason, it will be impossible to completely protect your child from children who are unvaccinated, and that’s just how it is. All you can do is educate people on the importance of vaccines if someone is protesting and emphasize the fact that your child and innocent children may die unnecessarily due to their decision.

  15. Tm says:

    People should get information and do research before accusing parents who do not vaccinate of negligence. What about the children who die from receiving vaccines or the ones that get the disease in spite of being vaccinated??? Parents who question vaccination are not idiots they have their childs best interest at heart. the pharmacutical companies do not have your best interest at heart. They just care about getting their money and selling more and more vaccines. they do not care if a few children die because of the side effects. If its was one of their kids im sure it would be a different story.

    • Curt Sampson says:

      Tm, many of us are accusing parents who do not vaccinate of negligence because we *did* “get information and do research.” To anybody who looks at this from an unbiased, scientific point of view, the evidence is thoroughly on the side of vaccinating.

    • Do No Harm says:

      Tm, pharmaceutical companies make very little profit on vaccines. They would most likely stop producing them were it not mandated by the federal government. To what side effects of vaccination are you referring? The side effects of *not* vaccinating include death from epiglottitis, death from the flu, and paralysis and death from polio. In fact, if your child is not vaccinated, you are putting the health of all of the children with whom your child interacts in danger. There are children who cannot receive mandatory vaccinations because their immune systems do not function properly. If one of those children dies from a vaccine-preventable disease carried by your child (I personally know of at least one person who has) you should be charged with negligent homicide.

  16. [...] (via Dr. Val) take a stand against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. WhiteCoat asks, “Should parents who fail to take steps to prevent a largely preventable illness be held [...]

  17. Stephanie says:

    If you had done research you would see that there is evidence supporting both sides. I have done the research and I am not going to vaccinate my child. I have seen the difference in my child and in other children in my family. And my daughter is brighter, *cough*HEALTHIER*cough*. My daughter has not been sick one time since she has been born! The other children in my family have been….many times. Facts show that the decrease of these diseases had dramatically dropped BEFORE vaccines due to better hygiene (http://www.whale.to/v/obosawin1_files/table1.gif) !!! !!!!!

    “Polio Vaccine that was given to over 98 million people in the 50s and 60s, was contaminated with the Simian (monkey) Virus # 40. This SV40 destroys all of the cells defenses against cancer”
    – Spice Williams-Crosby, M.S.NU, MFS, CFT

    • Do No Harm says:

      I agree that the graph shows that death rates declined prior to mass vaccination. However, you only partially interpreted the data. The data you show reveal a decrease in death from 1,000 children per million to almost zero following mass vaccination. That means that 1,000 less children will die from these diseases. Are you suggesting that it would be better not to vaccinate and to instead have those 1,000 kids die every year?

  18. Pk says:

    Stephanie, if you lived, like I do, with the daily fall out from a lack of vaccine, watching what these childhood diseases could do to a body, you’d think far differently.
    Some day my husband will die from the complications of polio he had as a child .. his muscles were destroyed, he looks like a hallocaust victim (note, I said victim, not survivor) because he’d have been 6’4 had he not had poliom, that frame is now crooked and twisted into a 5’4” on one foot and 5’0” on the other …and weighs all of 98 lbs.
    Some day, his lungs may fail, or an organ rupture because the scoliosis twists him so badly … his spinal cord is being pushed out of his neck.

    There is NO way to describe the ravages of polio …
    A cousin is deaf because of the measles. Another cousin was unable to have children because of mumps.
    While many of my generation did recieve vaccines,it was the early stages and many suffered dramatically … it is not something todays’ society is familiar with …

  19. karen says:

    I think any parent(who opts out for whatever reason to vaccinate their child) whose infectious child infects another child who may be too young to be vaccinated, or has a documented reason for not being vaccinated (medical, immune copormised)and would have been vaccinated, gets infected, the parent should take legal action against the anti-vaxer. The anti-vaxer needs to be held responsible. In the case of the infants in teh hospital in SanDiego in 2008, who wer infected by the anti-vaxer’s kid, who knew there child had measles, those parents had huge medical bills, and a harmed child. Why should the rights of the anit-vaxer be anymore important than the parent who wants to vaccinate, but is waiting for the opportunity. Some parents use the exemption laws becasue they are lazy not becasue they really have convicitons, it is just a way to avoid taking responsibility. maybe law suits would weed these folks out, and all would be held culpable for harm done to children and others.

    • Brent says:

      “The anti-vaxer needs to be held responsible.”

      For what? Living their lives? Being part of society? Making up their own mind about how to best live their life?

      “Why should the rights of the anit-vaxer be anymore important than the parent who wants to vaccinate, but is waiting for the opportunity.”

      By rights, do you mean something like liberty (from “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”)? http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberty

  20. Brent says:

    “Should parents who fail to take steps to prevent a largely preventable illness be held accountable if their children suffer a bad outcome?”

    If you mean by some government agency or through some law, no. That’s because that’s not the role of government and it never has been in the US. Not to nitpick terminology, but the “largely preventable” descriptor sounds like a real slippery slope. We should be very careful with that.

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