No, but in paying tribute to her father, who died in 2018, some folks may have gotten that idea.
“He was 92 years old. He had a good, long life. And he lived his life exactly how he wanted. He was Christian Science his entire life. He never had medicine his whole life. He never went to a doctor. I never had a vaccination. We never had medicine growing up and he lived to be 92. He was very proud of me.”
And even with the announcement of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), there is no ban on mandatory vaccinations across the United States.
“The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.”
HHS Announces New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division
Could you interpret this is laying the groundwork for allowing religious exemptions to vaccines?
Again, vaccine mandates are set by state law, so no, you shouldn’t. Anyway, almost all states already allow religious exemptions to getting vaccinated, even though no major religion is actually against vaccinating and protecting kids from life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Conscience protections apply to health care providers who refuse to perform, accommodate, or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds.”
Conscience Protections for Health Care Providers
A proposed rule, Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority, that might have affected vaccines funded by Federal medical assistance programs, never took effect. In fact, the White House urged HHS to not finalize the rule after the Office of Management and Budget said they weren’t complying with necessary rules to get it implemented on time.
“The AAP wishes to underscore its recognition of the important role of religion in the personal,spiritual, and social lives of many individuals, including health providers. Balancing that role with efforts to ensure children have appropriate access to needed health and social services is critical to meeting their health needs and supporting their health and well being. As HHS considers potential changes to regulations and policy guidance to encourage the provision of grants and contracts to faith-based organizations, we urge you to ensure that federal policy does not undermine children’s access to needed care and services.”
Collen Kraft, MD, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Not surprisingly, major medical associations were against the proposed rule, and not just because of potential effects on vaccines, even though it wouldn’t have actually banned vaccines.
“The proposal would dramatically expand the discretion that religious or moral objectors have to refuse care without meaningful safeguards to ensure that the rights of those receiving care are protected.”
AMA on HHS should withdraw proposal on health care conscience rights
Sadly, as Kennedy and many anti-vaccine folks focus and what they think are toxins and poisons in vaccines, they seem to be ignoring the fact that Donald Trump is going to expose our kids to many more real toxins and poisons through his efforts to slash Clean Water Act protections and other EPA regulations.
“I’m not anti-vaccine, I just don’t believe in flu shots.”
They likely get all other available vaccines for themselves and their kids, but for some reason, they skip the flu shot each year.
I’m Not Anti-Vaccine, I Just Don’t Believe in Flu Shots
Are they just anti-flu vaccine? Is that a thing?
Why don’t they “believe” in flu shots?
Typical answers you might get, if you ask, include:
I never get the flu – since about 5 to 20% of people get the flu each year, it is certainly possible that you never get the flu, especially if you aren’t around many other people that could spread the flu virus to you. But unless you live and work in a bubble, there is a good chance that you will eventually be exposed to someone with the flu, might catch the flu yourself, and will spread it to someone else.
I only get sick when I get a flu shot – flu shots are inactivated and can’t actually give you the flu. Even the live virus nasal mist flu vaccine won’t cause you to have the flu. While flu vaccines can cause mild flu side effects, if you get sick after after a flu shot, it could be that you have another respiratory virus, your flu vaccine didn’t have time to work, or that it wasn’t effective.
Flu shots are too expensive – most insurance plans cover the costs of flu vaccines, but if you don’t have insurance, it is sometimes possible to find free flu shots at a local health clinic, or you could get a flu shot for $24 at Walmart with a GoodRx coupon.
I don’t have time to get a flu shot – do you have time to get sick with the flu? Many doctors now offer regular flu clinics that make it convenient to just come in and get a flu vaccine or if that isn’t possible, you can likely get a flu vaccine at a nearby pharmacy.
Someone on the Internet told me to never get a flu shot because they are poison – if you are avoiding a flu vaccine because you are worried about thimerosal, miscarriages, that they contain a vaginal spermicide, or other misinformation, then you likely aren’t just anti-flu vaccine…
Gloria Copeland told me I didn’t need one – Jesus didn’t give us a flu shot and doesn’t want you to die with the flu, or measles.
But even before the smallpox vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796, we had variolation. While we have evidence of smallpoxinfections as early as the 2nd millennium BC, the earliest use of variolation is from the 10th to 18th Century, well after the Bible was written.
“I just decided to just google what the bible says about vaccines. There’s nothing in the bible that talks about vaccines. I just want you to think about that. So if God knew in the future that he was going to create these amazing things that were going to be the best scientific advancements, like oh, my God, they’re so great, why isn’t there anything, any inkling of talk about these things called vaccinations coming into being later to save people? If that was really God’s plan and they’re so amazing, then why isn’t it in there at all? Maybe there’s a chapter where they talk about something like an injection, like this health injection, right? Like, why didn’t God talk about that if he knew that it was going to come and save the world?”
It also shouldn’t be a surprise that they do it to try and sell you stuff, like Brittney Kara’s “Awakening Reset Program.”
Or Isagenix products.
Wait, is Isagenix mentioned in the Bible?
“You can be confident that Isagenix is committed to your success by offering you the opportunity to live a healthy, clean, and lean lifestyle—and to create wealth while doing so.”
Are multi-level marketing companies?
Brittney Kara is not the first anti-vaccine person to say that God does not support vaccines and she likely won’t be the last.
“The society of the 21st century, just as many societies and cultures in the history of human civilization, use religion as an excuse for wars, discrimination, and now for vaccination refusal.”
Pelčić on Religious exception for vaccination or religious excuses for avoiding vaccination
She may be the first to say that “believing in vaccines is a mental disorder.”
“Giving children a healthy start in life, no matter where they are born or the circumstances of their birth, is the moral obligation of every one of us. It is heartbreaking to think that three million children die each year from diseases that we can prevent.”
Nelson Mandela (2002 Vaccine Conference)
And if there is a moral obligation to get vaccinated, then what does that say about those who push propaganda that scares parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids?
That’s one of those things that can’t be true right?
After all, it was just a few years ago that the Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication met and stated that it “reiterates its trust in the safety and effectiveness of polio and other routine childhood vaccinations as a life-saving tool which protects children; and acknowledge that it fully conforms to Islamic rulings.”
A Fatwa Against the Measles Vaccine
Unfortunately, it’s true.
The Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), in a Fatwa Commission Meeting on August 20, established that it is illegal (haram) to use vaccines that utilize pigs and their derivatives, including the MR (measles-rubella) vaccine.
Importantly though, they also stated that the use of the MR vaccine is permissible (mubah), because there is no alternative vaccine and measles and rubella are dangerous diseases. So it is still not a good reason to seek a religious exemption to getting vaccinated.
What’s the concern?
Some vaccines use gelatin as a stabilizer. And the gelatin in those vaccines typically comes from pigs.
This isn’t a new issue though.
In 1995, Islamic legal scholars met at a seminar convened by the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences on the topic The Judicially Prohibited and Impure Substances in Foodstuff and Drugs.
“Transformation which means the conversion of a substance into another substance, different in characteristics, changes substances that are judicially impure or are found in an impure environment, into pure substances, and changes substances that are prohibited into lawful and permissible substances.”
The seminar concluded that “The gelatin formed as a result of the transformation of the bones, skin and tendons of a judicially impure animal is pure…”
So even though Muslims can’t eat pork, they can take medicines packaged in gelatin capsules and they can get vaccines that contain gelatin.
Fortunately, although although some immunization programs ordered a temporary delay when the fatwa was first issued, MR vaccination has resumed in Indonesia. That’s good news, as measles outbreaks are still common in the region.
Or because Pope Francis thanked members of the Rotary International during an Audience at the Vatican, where the Pope “emphasized the importance of vaccinations against polio and urged Rotary to continue.”
History of the Catholic Church and Vaccines
Pope Francis isn’t the first Pope to promote vaccination.
Way back in the early 1800s, Pope Pius VII said the smallpox vaccine was “a precious discovery which ought to be a new motive for human gratitude to Omnipotence.”
But wasn’t there an anti-vaccine pope too?
Some claimed that Pope Leo XII had said that “Whoever allows himself to be vaccinated ceases to be a child of God. Smallpox is a judgment of God, the vaccination is a challenge toward heaven.”
He didn’t say it though – the anti-vax edict from the Pope was imaginary!
There was no anti-vaccine pope.
Endorsement of vaccination by the Catholic Church had started long before the smallpox vaccine. As early as the 1720s, Jesuits were inoculating Indians in the Amazon against smallpox.
Other noteworthy events in the history of the Catholic Church related to vaccines include:
1757 – Pope Benedict XIV was inoculated against smallpox
1780s – introduction of public vaccinations by the archbishop of Bamberg, Germany
1821 – Council of Vaccination
1800s – priests routinely led processions of people to get vaccinated against smallpox
1862 – Catholic missionaries vaccinated the Quwutsun in the Pacific Northwest
Sean Phillips, in examining the records of the Osler Library, has also found “a story of close cooperation between clergy and the state from the earliest stages of the vaccine in France…” That was important, because when smallpox epidemics were raging, the clergy functioned “as a conduit between the medical community and the majority of cities, towns, and communes in France throughout the nineteenth century.”
Vaccines and Abortion
Of course, one of the main reasons that vaccines and the Catholic Church comes up at all is because of abortion.
What does abortion have to do with vaccines?
While much of what you hear about abortion and vaccines isn’t true, some of it is:
Some vaccines are made in cell lines that originated from fetuses that were aborted over 40 years ago.
These vaccines are made in descendent cells from either the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines, which have been duplicated over and over again and are grown independently. So, “it is important to note that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child.”
The descendent cells don’t remain in the final vaccine after it has been purified.
It should be clear now why they say that these vaccines are said to have a “distant association with abortion.”
“For its part, Catholic social teaching entails a duty to vaccinate in order to protect the vulnerable.”
Paul J. Carson on Catholic Social Teaching and the Duty to Vaccinate
And why it is said that Catholics are “morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion” and that “it should be obvious that vaccine use in these cases does not contribute directly to the practice of abortion since the reasons for having an abortion are not related to vaccine preparation.”
“Since there is no Catholic teaching that the use of these vaccines is sinful, schools cannot allow Catholic parents to claim a religious exemption from the requirement of immunization.”
National Catholic Bioethics Center on Vaccines and Exemptions Granted by Schools
Catholics can seek an alternative vaccine when available and “register a complaint with the manufacturer of the products as an acceptable form of conscientious objection,” but the The National Catholic Bioethics Center states that “there is no moral obligation to register such a complaint in order to use these vaccines.”
The way that these laws and exemptions are set up leaves a lot of room for abuse though.
Abuse of Religious Exemptions
How many religions are actually against kids getting vaccinated?
That’s right, almost none.
So why are there so many religious vaccine exemptions in most states, especially in states that don’t have a personal belief exemption?
Folks who don’t want to vaccinate their kids, and can’t use a personal belief exemption, just say that vaccinating them would be against their religion.
Abuse of Medical Exemptions
There are some children who shouldn’t be vaccinated.
These children can get a true medical exemption to one or more vaccines because they have a real contraindication or precaution to getting vaccinated.
“If a child has a medical exemption to immunization, a physician licensed to practice medicine in New York State must certify that the immunization is detrimental to the child’s health. The medical exemption should specify which immunization is detrimental to the child’s health, provide information as to why the immunization is contraindicated based on current accepted medical practice, and specify the length of time the immunization is medically contraindicated, if known.”
Dear Colleague letter regarding guidelines for use of immunization exemptions
a moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever (precaution)
a progressive neurologic disorder (precaution)
Most other things are “incorrectly perceived as contraindications to vaccination” and should not be a medical exemptions, including having :
a mild acute illness with or without fever
a mild to moderate local reaction
relatives with allergies
a family history of seizures
a stable neurologic condition
an autoimmune disease
a family history of an adverse event after DTP or DTaP administration
A medical exemption can also exist if your child already had the disease and so has natural immunity. In most cases, except for chicken pox disease, titers will likely need to be done to prove that your child already has immunity.
Stopping the Abuse of Vaccine Exemptions
We know that vaccine exemptions are being abused.
How do you stop it?
“Permitting personal belief exemptions and easily granting exemptions are associated with higher and increasing nonmedical US exemption rates. State policies granting personal belief exemptions and states that easily grant exemptions are associated with increased pertussis incidence.”
Omer et al on Nonmedical exemptions to school immunization requirements: secular trends and association of state policies with pertussis incidence.
You likely have to make it harder to get a vaccine exemption.
Strong exemption laws, which are needed in many states, make it clear that:
many exemptions are temporary
medical exemptions are based on ACIP guidelines, current accepted medical practice, and evidence based medicine – not anecdotes
religious exemptions specifically exclude philosophical exemptions and must reflect a sincere religious belief
exempted students will be excluded from school during outbreaks
exemptions should include a signed affidavit that is notarized
exemptions should be recertified each year
a separate exemption application will be needed for each vaccine
“Because rare medically recognized contraindications for specific individuals to receive specific vaccines exist, legitimate medical exemptions to immunization requirements are important to observe. However, nonmedical exemptions to immunization requirements are problematic because of medical, public health, and ethical reasons and create unnecessary risk to both individual people and communities.”
AAP on Medical Versus Nonmedical Immunization Exemptions for Child Care and School Attendance
You could also get rid of nonmedical vaccine exemptions.
Of course, for that to work, you can’t allow just anything to count as a medical exemption.
“Review of all medical exemption requests will be conducted at the Mississippi State Department of Health by the State Epidemiologist or Deputy State Epidemiologist.”
Mississippi Medical Exemption Policy
In Mississippi, for example, where medical exemptions are reviewed and approved by the State Epidemiologist or Deputy State Epidemiologist, there were just 208 medical exemptions in the whole state during the 2016-17 school year.
In some states, rates of medical exemptions might be six or seven times higher. This is mostly seen in states that don’t allow personal belief exemptions and make it difficult to get a religious exemption.
That seems to be the case in Nebraska, where there are no personal belief exemptions and you have to submit a notarized statement to get a religious exemptions. Their high rates of medical exemptions likely reflect some abuse and the fact that medical exemptions aren’t reviewed or approved by anyone, they just reflect “that, in the health care provider’s opinion, the specified immunization(s) required would be injurious to the health and well – being of the student or any member of the student’s family or household.”
As we are seeing, that simply invites vaccine exemption abuse.
Very few states currently require that exemption applications go to the health department for review. Those that do include Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
California is notably absent. I guess they didn’t see the potential for abuse when they passed their latest vaccine law. I mean, who could have guessed that doctors would actually be selling medical exemptions to parents based on unrelated conditions, like a family history of diabetes, celiac disease, or autism?
At the very least, until we have stronger exemption laws, parents who want to get a nonmedical exemption should acknowledge that they understand the risks they are taking when they skip or delay their child’s vaccines.
What to Know About Abuse of Vaccine Exemptions
While medical exemptions are necessary for kids who have true contraindications to getting vaccinated, stronger laws can help decrease the abuse we see in medical, religious, and personal belief vaccine exemptions.