When it comes to the health of its children, the State of New Mexico’s position is “better safe than sorry.” And to that end, our guest today, John R. Roby has written in the Santa Fe Reporter, “[the state] requires all children who enter daycare or schools—private and public—to prove up-to-date vaccinations for 13 diseases, including measles, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis A and B, and varicella (chicken pox).”
State-required vaccinations for all kids entering public or private schools, even newbies in daycare means safety first, except…except if a child is exempted for medical or religious reasons. At the start of this school year, more than 4,500 enrolled schoolchildren were un-vaccinated by exemption, almost all of them for “religious reasons.”
To qualify for a religious exemption from vaccination parents must either provide a letter from a clergyman, or a statement of their own on why religious belief entitles them to keep their kids unvaxxed. 94 percent of the thousands of religious exemptions granted in New Mexico are based on a parent’s statement.
Which may be largely bogus. In 2012, the New Mexico Department of Health surveyed parents who’d gotten a vaccination exemption for their child, and 55 percent of them said they did so “for philosophical or personal reasons,” not religious ones. The law that grants religious exemptions rejects “philosophical or personal reasons.”
The theoretical dangers of 4,500 unvaccinated children in public schools are now seen as more threatening and real as the United States is currently having the worst outbreak of measles in close to 30 years. For the unvaccinated, measles is among the most contagious diseases, and by far the biggest American outbreak of measles this year has been tied to unvaccinated students at ultra-orthodox Jewish religious schools in Rockland County, NY.
2019 has seen more than 1,000 measles cases documented in 26 states, including New Mexico. Here, we’ve been lucky. The one documented case, a one-year old child, did not spread.
This good luck encourages the logical opposite of the State Health Department’s “better safe than sorry.” That philosophy was expressed by a mother from Rockland County who successfully sued to keep her kid vaccine-free, citing her Buddhist beliefs. She told the New York Times: “We’re taught to live in the present,” said Melissa, “Right now, my children are healthy.”
John R. Roby is a data journalist, and the former data editor for Searchlight New Mexico. He is an investigative reporter with the USA Today Network’s New York newspapers whose work has been seen in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, The Clarion-Ledger, The Journal News, Poughkeepsie Journal, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Las Cruces Sun-News, Star-Gazette, Ithaca journal, NMPolitics.net. His latest article was published by the Santa Fe Reporter.