Should Parents Be Allowed to Start New Religion to Avoid Vaccines?

Some parents in Vermont might soon be losing their religion – and starting a new one.

We’ve all heard it at least a million times now: Vaccines don’t cause autism. Vaccines are safe. But not everyone is convinced they should be mandatory, including a group of moms and dads in Vermont who recently learned that the philosophical objection they’ve been using to get their unvaccinated kids into school is no longer an option.

That’s because Vermont recently became the first state to eliminate the philosophical exemption that lets parents enroll their kids in school even if they don’t have all the required vaccines, the Associated Press reports.

But since the religious exemption is still allowed, many parents are expected to simply check the box for “religious” reasons instead.

“The vast majority who used the philosophical exemption are planning to or are being forced to use the religious exemption,” Jennifer Stella, president of the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice, tells the AP. The coalition advocates for informed consent in all medical procedures, including vaccines.

It’s not clear how the legitimacy of someone’s “religious” exemption could be verified but some parents have been talking about starting a new religion if the need arises, the AP reports.

“A religion that says we’ll pretty much have a choice,” Shawn Venner, a parent in Vermont, says in the article.

Some say parents who will switch to the religious exemption are taking advantage of the system and putting other children at risk in the process.

“You want to put your child at risk of death or permanent disability from diseases that are far more deadly and dangerous than the vaccines that prevent them, then go ahead,” user justworkinggirlx commented on the AP story. “Keep your petri dish child at home where he or she cannot pose a risk to other children – permanently.”

Others says parents should have to identify the specific religion while many commenters were shocked that parents would object to vaccines in the first place given the available research showing they’re safe.

“I’m glad I won’t be sending my children to school in Vermont,” user_4547732 wrote in the comments on a Boston Globe article on the topic. “I can’t believe how many ‘flat-earthers’ there are out there who simply deny the clear-cut scientific evidence that vaccinations keep us all healthier.”

Even without considering the effects of the anti-vaccine movement on public health, starting a religion to avoid complying with vaccine laws seems clearly unethical. But who’s to say a religiously held belief is any more valid than a personally held, philosophical belief? Is it fair that the law favors one over the other?

Vermont lawmakers must have known this would happen when they eliminated the philosophical exemption but kept the religious exemption, especially since the law doesn’t even require parents to submit a statement of religious beliefs but instead only check a box on a form.

States like California and Mississippi only allow medical exemptions. If Vermont was serious about increasing vaccination rates, why not ban all non-medical objections? Or do parents deserve a right to some say on the matter?

What do you think? Should Vermont do more to make sure people using the “religious” exemption are part of a religion that prohibits vaccines? Do you believe philosophical exemptions should be an option? Tell us in the comments.

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