Vaccination is one the greatest achievements of public health which led to a marked decline in the rate of infectious diseases in the 19th century. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1999) However, currently a growing number of parents are in doubt regarding the safety of vaccines and the necessity to follow the recommended vaccination schedule for their children, resulting in many parents following an alternative schedule of vaccination or complete refusal of vaccination. (Dempsey et al., 2011)
According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011, 13% of parents followed an alternative vaccination schedule, 22% of those who followed the approved schedule had doubts about it and 17% refused all vaccines completely. This increasing trend has become a growing cause of concern for the physicians and public health workers today.
Some of the common reasons cited by parents for not vaccinating children include:
• Autism and autoimmune disorders linked to vaccines
• Toxins present in the vaccines causing harm to children
• Vaccinating children for multiple diseases, especially for diseases which are not prevalent today.
One of the important reasons why parents are concerned about the safety of these vaccines is due to the 1998 theory proposed by British gastroenterologist David Wakefield linking autism to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Though the Institute of Medicine has already conducted safety review panels since 2001 and rejected any such correlation, parents continue to fear about their children suffering from autism or immune dysfunction due to vaccinations. (American Journal of Public Health, 2008)
Parents are also concerned about the presence of toxins in the vaccines that could harm their children. One such substance is thimerosal, a mercury containing preservative that was previously used in many recommended childhood vaccines. (Baker, J.P, 2008) However, a joint statement released by the American Association of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention on July 9th, 1999 stressing on the need to remove thimerosal-containing vaccines, eliminated or reduced the amount of thimerosal in vaccines to traces. (Baker, J.P., 2008)
The increasing rates of vaccine refusals compel us to take an account of the history of immunization laws in the US. The US government has always been supportive of the implementation of immunization policies. The first immunization law was passed in the US in Massachusetts in 1809 which mandated all citizens to receive the small pox vaccine. (Jackson, C.L, 1969) The 1905 landmark case of Jacobson vs Massachusetts laid the foundation for the public health laws wherein the US Supreme Court accepted the rights of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws. (Colgrove J, Bayer R, 2005) Consequently, various other laws requiring compulsory immunization were laid, important among which were those requiring compulsory immunization for entering schools. Thus, by 1980s,...