Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Childhood Vaccination Policy Challenged in Court

How do we balance the rights of an child to attend school against the need to protect society from disease?   In New York City, children must be vaccinated against certain vaccine-preventable diseases in order to attend school, unless the child has been granted an exemption on either medical or religious grounds.  The vaccination requirement is intended to protect society from disease; the exemption allows for the rights of an individual under certain special circumstances.  So far, so good.  But there's a catch...

To protect both the unvaccinated child and society as a whole from disease, New York City added an additional feature to its vaccination policy.   In New York City, unvaccinated children can be barred from school whenever another child at the school has a vaccine-preventable disease.  The policy that their child can be barred from school, even if only temporarily, does not sit well with some parents of unvaccinated children.  The parents of two unvaccinated children sued the city, arguing that barring unvaccinated children from school violates their rights under the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution.  The 14th amendment, as you probably know, guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law.  But does that include the right of an unvaccinated child to attend school, even when it puts themselves and others at risk?

The case is wending its way through the courts.  Just this month a judge of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled in favor of the school system, arguing that there’s nothing in the constitution that speaks to the issue of religion-based exemptions from vaccinations.   This case will almost certainly be appealed.

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