Monday Health & Wellness: Vaccine Choice and Your Rights

admin June 9, 2014

vaccine choice

Image by USACE European District

Happy summer vacation!

A lot of kids have just gotten out of school for the summer, and families are enjoying it.  Back-to-school isn’t even on their radar yet.  I get it!  Who wants to think about school when you just got out, and the weather is so gorgeous?

I want to talk to you about one aspect of back-to-school, though, that’s really important.  (And it’s not just back-to-school — it’s also for new parents and parents-to-be.)  It’s about a big decision you have to make: which vaccines to get your child (if any) and when.  You have the right to make the vaccine choice for yourselves.

But kids can’t go to school without their shots!!  They are required!

Not true.

This is one of the biggest concerns that parents bring to me.  They’re on the fence about vaccines.  They feel some are important, but maybe some aren’t.  Or they want to space them out more.  They feel pressure to get their children fully caught up before they start school, though, because they believe their children can’t attend school without the complete vaccine schedule.  But that’s wrong.

Nothing against those parents — our culture has gone pretty far to hide this choice from parents.  They lie by omission, or even by pressuring parents with incorrect “facts” constantly.  We want to turn that around, and empower parents to make the decisions that are right for their families and no one else.

A Culture of Fear

A lot of parents feel honestly confused about the vaccine issue.  Everywhere they turn, it seems like someone is screaming at them that vaccines are a requirement and vaccine-preventable diseases are deadly and terrible and their children will probably die if they don’t get all their vaccines on time.  There’s really no balance to this conversation.

More than one parent has heard that vaccines are controversial for the very first time, and has gone to their doctor, saying, “I heard…  What should I do?”  They have honest questions.  They want their doctor to patiently answer those questions, to help them feel comfortable with their vaccine decision.

Instead of patient answers, they’re met with hysterics — “Do you want your child to DIE?  Vaccines are safe and effective!  Parents who don’t vaccinate are irresponsible morons and are practically guilty of child abuse!  You must vaccinate your child on the CDC schedule or I will kick you out of my practice!”

What is a confused parent to do with that sort of response??

A whole lot more parents are becoming increasingly confused and upset because this is the sort of fear-based reaction that’s become common whenever someone mentions questioning vaccines.  Jennifer Margulis, MD, was recently branded as an “anti-vaccine nut job” because she asked some realistic, necessary questions about vaccine safety.  She fully vaccinates her own children.  She was vilified by the culture of fear, because she dared to ask questions.  She’s an MD…who vaccinates.  That is just how ridiculous and over-the-top some people are about the vaccine issue.

This post is really not about how crazy that has become.  I just want to acknowledge that if you are confused and feel like the world is screaming at you and you don’t know why, it’s not your imagination.  It really is that nuts.

This post is actually about helping you, as a parent, find resources to make your own decision, and helping you know your rights — so that you can stand up for yourself.

For more on vaccine research, see all our vaccine posts.

Parental Rights and Vaccine Choice

At Modern Alternative Mama, we’re on your side.

That means that if you choose to fully vaccinate on schedule, we support you.

If you choose an alternative or delayed schedule, we support you.

If you choose no vaccines at all, we support you.

It is your right to choose what medical care your children receive.  Not the state’s, nor the school’s, and certainly not ours.  It is our goal to see that you know your rights, and that you exercise them.  This is going to be the case no matter how many temper tantrums silly adults throw about “harming society” by not vaccinating.  (Sending your kids to school with a fever or hacking cough is far more dangerous than sending them to school unvaccinated…and parents do that all the time.)

Your child may attend public school in most states, no matter what vaccines he has or hasn’t received.  It’s not “all or nothing,” either.  You may sign an exemption form even if your child has received or will receive some vaccines.  Simply don’t list them on the form — it’s not the school’s business what your child’s medical situation is, anyway.  (It’s sad that we feel we have to make our child’s medical decisions based on “school rules,” isn’t it?)

These states offer three potential exemptions (medical, religious, and personal belief/philosophical):

  • Washington
  • California*
  • Idaho
  • North Dakota
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Texas
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan
  • Ohio
  • Maine
  • Vermont

*CA now requires a doctor to sign off on the philosophical exemption

These states off two potential exemptions (medical or religious):

  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • Montana
  • Wyoming
  • South Dakota
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Florida
  • South Carolina
  • North Carolina
  • Kentucky
  • Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York+
  • Connecticut 
  • Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts
  • Delaware
  • New Jersey
  • Maryland
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Alaska

+Exemption can be difficult to get

These states have only medical:

  • West Virginia
  • Mississippi

In these final two states, exemptions are typically very hard to get.

To obtain an exemption:

  1. Find out what options are available in your state.
  2. Choose the exemption that best represents your beliefs.
  3. Download the appropriate form from your state’s website and fill it out.
  4. If you choose a religious exemption, you do NOT need to “prove” what your religious beliefs are, and it does not need to be an official part of your church doctrine.  “I believe God created us perfectly and vaccines interfere with God-given health” is perfectly fine.  The state may not question you on this.  Some states try to question it, or even ask a religious official to sign off on it — technically that is illegal.
  5. Exemptions (generally) do NOT need to be notarized, though some will tell you they need to be.  Double check your state’s laws.
  6. Turn your exemption in with your child’s medical paperwork instead of the vaccine record.

These are the laws!  Sometimes, people will be told:

  • There are no exemptions; vaccines are mandatory
  • Exemptions require a doctor’s note (only in CA is this true)
  • Exemptions must be notarized
  • Getting the shots is “easier”
  • Exemptions require a statement from a religious official
  • etc.

Some of these are simply misunderstandings.  Some of these are said with the intent to confuse parents or keep them from seeking exemptions.  Many schools send home a form that says something like “Until or unless your child is up to date on their vaccines, they may not attend school.”  They do not mention the exemption forms.

Should you wish to use an exemption, and should you receive a note that your child is not up to date and therefore cannot attend school, please send this form back to the school with your signed exemption form attached with a note about what the state’s laws are.  It would be helpful to include a personal note saying something like “Please change the wording of the vaccine paperwork you send to families, letting them know there is an exemption available if they don’t have or wish to receive some or all vaccines.”  More and more moms are (respectfully) talking to school officials about this and some are changing the wording!  Every little bit helps.

If you run into a school official who, for whatever reason, denies that you can use an exemption and seems unaware of the law, and unwilling to learn, find a different school official.  Go over his/her head if you need to.  Do not put up with bullying — exercise your right to choose.

Advocacy for Exemptions

As you can see above, not all states have all available exemptions.  And recently, some states have tried or been successful in limiting when and how parents can use certain exemptions (California succeeded and Colorado tried — but thankfully failed).

We believe all parents should have a choice.  That all states should have all three exemptions available and that parents should be able to use them freely.

On June 30, we will be asking everyone to take action.  Specifically, we will be asking everyone who believes that parents should have this choice (whether or not you personally choose to use the exemptions) to write to their Congressmen at the state level, either thanking them for the exemptions in place and requesting that they keep them; or asking them to create additional options and make exemptions easier to obtain.

It is our hope that with a massive grass-roots campaign like this, we can let our lawmakers know that CHOICE is important to us!  If we don’t let them know this, then the few very loud voices that are screaming that we should not have a choice will win this fight, and our exemptions will be stripped away.

It doesn’t matter to us whether you vaccinate fully, partially, or not at all.  All that matters is that you believe that each family has the right to make their own decision about vaccines.  Even if you fully vaccinate, if you believe others should have the right to choose not to, please participate!

How you can help:

  • SHARE this post with your friends and family, so that everyone is aware of what their rights currently are.
  • TALK about the upcoming advocacy campaign, so that others will be ready to participate on June 30.
  • WRITE to your Congressmen and encourage others to do the same.  On June 30, we will provide a sample letter as well as links to find who your Congressmen (and women) are.

This campaign is a respectful one.  This campaign is about politely but firmly standing up for your rights.  

In future months, we will have more ideas for you on how to help educate other parents on their rights, and how to stand up for those rights!

Do you believe vaccines should be a choice?

Confused about vaccines?

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  1. Though I choose not to vaccinate, I have not had a response from my traditional doctor like the one you have described. I am sure that those types of scenarios have happened, and I am not trying to argue about the degree to which anti vaccine folks are vilified in certain circles. I also agree with you on your stand and your desire to make everyone informed of their choices, but I think to make blanket statements that seem inflammatory about doctors makes your argument a bit less credible to those who are reading this from a more neutral or hesitant position. I urge you to be a bit more careful in generalizing doctors. Those of us who seek alternative care don’t need more ammunition to make us feel that the medical community is out to attack us. It feels a bit like the fear-mongering that you are speaking against to cast doctors in such a hysterical light. That being said, I do not trust my doctor to make decisions for me or to have done all the research. I have heard of friends not being welcome in offices because of their non vaccine choices, but I think the giving the idea of yelling and name calling happening in the office creates a fear of doctors instead of inviting people to reach out more and making attempts to dialogue with those people who disagree with us. That is the way to show them that we aren’t morons.


    • Please know i do fully agree with you that there are name calling, yelling meanies who want to scare us into going with the flow, I just think that there are a lot of doctors who just cannot see through their education or the information passed down to them through their boards of health. They see things one way, the way that supports all they believe about medicine. They want what is best for us, but they disagree about what that is.

      To the others, the ones who see us as the enemy, well, they aren’t worth our time….they don’t want to listen. i just don’t think we should give them any ammunition to vilify us.


  2. How can anyone NOT know they have a choice with how much this issue is brought up? You’d have to be completely isolated from society or incredibly aloof not to know this stuff.


    • Hi Erin,

      You would be surprised. I hear all the time “You have to get shots or you can’t go to school.” And schools, government, and the media use words like “mandatory” and “compulsory.” A lot of parents truly do not know.


  3. In recent years, I have decided not to vaccinate my children. We rarely need to go to a doctor, but I had to take one of my children in not too long ago. I did not fill out all of the doctor’s office (nosy) questionnaire, and the young lady at the desk loudly began berating me for being one of “those people”— one of the irresponsible parents who spreads diseases. She also told me that my children could not attend school, sports, or social activities without their vaccines. I told her that not vaccinating was my choice and legal. One of the older ladies that worked there noticed what was going on, and came and put the younger one in her place by informing her that yes, it IS LEGAL. Then she ( the older lady) apologized to me and my child, who later said he felt like a pet “needing vaccines”.


    • I am so glad that the older lady came to your defense. Whether she agreed with your choice or not, that wasn’t her job. Her job is to ensure you feel accepted and supported in your choice. I am glad she put a stop to it and hopefully spared someone else from being on the receiving end of that girl’s power trip!


  4. […] if you believe that vaccines should stay a family’s personal choice, you’ll want to check out this post.  Help us speak out for parental […]


  5. Protecting your child as well as those they come in contact with is being responsible as a parent. I have Lupus and have had the chickenpox, the last thing I need is shingles from being exposed to chickenpox from my grandchildren. The outbreaks of whooping cough in California is a great example for why vaccines are a must.


    • Hi Pati,

      Adults actually are LESS likely to get shingles if they are exposed to children with chicken pox. It boosts their natural immunity. More and more people are getting shingles these days because children aren’t getting chicken pox anymore, and aren’t boosting adults’ immunity. Of course, even *infants* are getting shingles now, thanks to the vaccine. But if you believe in vaccines, there is a shingles vaccine out there that you may opt to get. That’s your choice — forcing others into vaccination to protect you, isn’t.

      As for the CA whooping cough outbreak, have you even looked into it, beyond what the media has said? Because naturally, with no facts other than “people have whooping cough” they jump to “it’s those anti-vaxxers again.” In fact, in most outbreaks, the majority of people were fully vaccinated. There is vaccine failure. There is parapertussis instead of pertussis (against which the vaccine does not protect). But, it’s really not because of unvaccinated kids. Go look it up on the CDC; it’s pretty clear if you read the actual data.


      • It saddens me that your choice to not vaccinate could kill another child. I get that for YOUR child this might be the best option. However, some kids are very immune compromised or are too young to be vaccinated. Being exposed to a child with a regular immune system that is carrying chicken pox or measles could kill them. If your choice was made without having an effect on other children, then I would say it was fine. However, your choices impact other children. I have been working at a children’s hospital for a year and have seen the repercussions of the non-vaccination “choice”. Are there risks to vaccines? Yes! Are these risks greater than the risks of the diseases we are immunizing from? No! Vaccines do save lives and because of vaccines we have forgotten the dangers that illness posed in the first place. It is because of Vaccines that we are able to argue about this choice and not worry our child will end up in an iron lung or in a wheelchair.


        • If, let’s say, a vaccine actually killed my child…would that be worth it to you, because now my child can’t possibly accidentally infect your child? If my child were permanently disabled by a vaccine, would that be worth it to you? Because it’s not worth it to me.

          I’m sorry, but my children’s health and safety takes priority over yours, when it comes to making medical decisions for my children. I don’t take risks with their health or their lives on the teeny, tiny chance that they might someday get sick, and then pass it along to someone who then is hospitalized or even dies. You do realize that the actual chances of that scenario actually occurring are no more likely than the vaccine reactions you acknowledge occur? And far, far less likely than the vaccine reactions that actually occur.

          It’s selfish to ask people to make medical decisions for themselves for YOUR benefit. Period.


        • I’m just going to leave this here

          Also I just want to point out that vaccinations are only temporary, why we have boosters. That was not always thought to be the case, so older generations of people are not receiving the benefit of vaccination at this point. Making the whole herd immunity thing a bit fishy, imo. We are all the herd, not just the kids.


  6. When you say that it’s “technically illegal” to ask you to have a religious official sign the paperwork, how do you know that? I’m asking because I expect that this will occur, and I would like to have an easy response (I don’t want to get to a point where someone is saying “show me where I’m not allowed to force you to do this” or something like that, which I feel is pretty likely to happen). Is it also illegal for them to make you explicitly state what “religious belief” you’re standing behind? Is that written out somewhere?

    Thanks so much for this information and your passion for choice! I do not yet have children, but plan to start trying soon. I haven’t 100% decided on the vaccine thing (though am leaning AT LEAST at a reduced/delayed schedule); I understand that this issue can be complicated, but I just really appreciate that everyone should be given the choice on what goes in their bodies (or that of their children), and so your passion for defending that is encouraging to me. Thank you!


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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