To the Editors:
In his article “There’s No Way Out of it !” [NYR, March 5], Jerome Groopman fails to address many of the most salient features of vaccine law and policy.
Dr. Groopman suggests that the risks of vaccines are imaginary and anecdotal, but this is not the case. All vaccines are legally considered “unavoidably unsafe,” like all prescription drugs, yet states compel them in a one-size-fits-all manner for daycare and school attendance. Because vaccines can cause severe injury and death, Congress granted almost complete liability protection to the vaccine industry and doctors in the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. The statute creates a federally funded compensation program, which has paid out over $3 billion to 3,941 victims of vaccine injury, including death. In addition, the 1986 law created the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which has received over 493,000 reports of vaccine adverse events. This number likely represents 1%-10% of actual injuries, thus suggesting actual adverse events of between four and 40 million.
Since the passage of the 1986 Act, the federally-recommended childhood vaccine schedule has ballooned from seven vaccines (measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and polio) to sixteen, delivered in seventy doses, starting on the day of birth through age 18 (hepatitis B, rotavirus, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, Haemophilus B, pneumococcal, polio, flu, measles-mumps-rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, meningococcal, human papillomavirus). No other country recommends more vaccines, yet the U.S. ranks 37th worldwide in infant mortality, and childhood health in the United States is poor: over half of American children suffer from a chronic condition, be it ADHD, asthma, allergies, diabetes, autism, learning disabilities or autoimmune conditions. A significant scientific literature highlights vaccine risks and suggests possible links to chronic health conditions. The country needs more independent research on vaccine safety, not less.
Parents seeking exemptions in general are neither ill-informed nor anti-social: they are acting in the best interests of their children, as they understand them, as both law and conscience require them to do. Neither tort lawsuits nor draconian legislation is likely to induce resistant parents to comply with state mandates when their hearts and minds require them to ‘first, do no harm.’ False compliance and civil disobedience are the likely results of today’s legislative rush to abolish exemptions and deny families the right to prior, free and informed consent. By contrast to the U.S., most of our peer countries – the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, to name a few – guarantee the right to refuse vaccination. Their overall public health is at least as good, if not better, than that of the U.S.
Only real science, robust debate and respect for the human rights of all are likely to achieve a satisfactory resolution to this polarizing issue.
NYU School of Law
New York, NY