California’s vaccine exemption laws – clustering effects

All 50 US states (along with several territories and DC) require mandatory vaccination for children entering public (and frequently, private) schools. This system has essentially ended most vaccine preventable diseases in the USA, including measles, polio, chickenpox, and many others.

Broad vaccination is considered one of the 10 greatest achievements in public health. Vaccines should probably be number 1 on the list. Overall, the immunization mandate has established a strong herd effect, which has generally ended transmission of these diseases.

Even though vaccinating children before they enter school is mandatory, there are ways around it, if you choose. Every state allows medical exemptions, which is based on a proven risk for a child to not be vaccinated with one or more vaccines. For example, some vaccines are produced in chicken eggs, and a tiny percentage of children are allergic. Medical exemptions are absolutely critical to the well being of the child, and no pro-science (pro-vaccine) writer or researcher would be opposed to those types of exemptions.

Furthermore, most states have vaccine exemption laws which allows personal belief exemptions (PBE). These PBEs fall into one of two groups–religious exemptions, that is, the parent “claims” that their religion is opposed to vaccines; or personal exemptions, which are simply based on the fact that the parents are opposed to vaccination for whatever reason that hits their brain after 20 minutes of Googling “facts.”

Most states allow both types of exemptions, some only allow religious exemptions, and one state, Mississippi, allows only medical exemptions. As a progressive, there is little positive I can say about Mississippi, but this is a major positive. So congrats Mississippi for caring about children, at least in this one important way. Continue reading “California’s vaccine exemption laws – clustering effects”

Court decides parents’ refusing vaccinations – not “free exercise of religion”

The US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has ruled (pdf)  that a parent’s refusing vaccinations for her children against diseases is not a “free exercise” of religion, and is tantamount to neglect.

In April 2010,  the Tuscarawas County (Ohio) Jobs and Family Services (TCJFS) took custody of the children of Charity and Brock Schenker as a result of a domestic violence matter between the parents. TCJFS determined that the children were “neglected and dependent” and worked out case plans for the parents which included psychiatric evaluations, drug testing and supervised visitation of their children. When TCJFS asked about the children’s immunizations, according to Secular News Daily, “Mrs. Schenker claimed she had religious objections to immunizations. The court informed her that the immunizations would be ordered.”

Continue reading “Court decides parents’ refusing vaccinations – not “free exercise of religion””

Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions – good, bad and ugly

In the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (Hobby Lobby) decision, a majority of the Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s requirement that qualifying employer health plans under the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) include coverage for all FDA approve contraceptives cannot be applied to at least certain corporations stating religious objections.

The Court found that the regulations violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA)’s prohibition on burdening exercise of religion. The majority made every effort to make that decision narrow as possible – but it still has concerning implications for the future, and Justice Ginsburg’s ringing dissent raises very important questions.

When the Skeptical Raptor asked me to write about this decision, we intended that I would discuss Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions for vaccines. But this decision is too important to stop there, so while I also address the vaccination aspect, my discussion is about the decision generally.

From my point of view – as a secular individual who believes reproductive freedom is crucial to women’s equality – the decision has some positives, but also much to be concerned about (I hope the analysis will also be useful to those whose views are different from mine, however). It’s not, however, a decision that turns the United States into a theocracy, as some of the more impassioned posts I’ve seen on Facebook suggest. In some ways, actually, just the opposite.

Continue reading “Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions – good, bad and ugly”

No faith – healthcare workers, vaccines and religion

June Valent started working for Hackettstown Community Hospital, New Jersey, in 2009. In 2010, the hospital adopted a policy requiring workers to be vaccinated against influenza, unless “there [was] a documented medical or religious exemption. For those with an exemption, a declination form must be signed and accompanied with an appropriate note each year.” An employee claiming a religious exemption just has to sign a form and bring a note from a religious leader. Employees using an exemption were required to wear a mask.

To her credit, Ms. Valent was unwilling to pretend her reasons for refusing the vaccine were religious. Less to her credit, she refused to be vaccinated, even though she had no medical reason, and vaccinating would reduce her chances of contracting influenza and transmitting it to her vulnerable patients. She did agree to wear a facemask, as any vaccine exempt worker would.

The hospital fired Ms. Valent for violating the policy. The issue under consideration was whether she was entitled to unemployment benefits. Under New Jersey law, an employer may deny unemployment benefits if the employee engaged in misconduct, which includes violating a reasonable rule of the employer. After somewhat complex proceedings, the Appeal Tribunal of the Board Of Review of the Department Of Labor decided to deny her the benefits because the employer’s requirements were “not unreasonable.” Continue reading “No faith – healthcare workers, vaccines and religion”

Mammoth created on sixth day–according to South Carolina

Ah, South Carolina. The Palmetto State. A lovely state, with beautiful beaches and forests. 

But also known as the Whoopee Cushion of the Nation. And they’ve blown up the cushion again, and the rest of the country is snickering.

south-carolina-mammoth

Through the persistence of an eight-year old third grade student, Olivia McConnell, the South Carolina House voted 94-3 on HB 4482 in February to specify that the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) as the official state fossil. Olivia wanted the mammoth as the state fossil because its teeth were one of the first vertebrate fossils found in North America, dug up by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725. 

The bill was sent to the South Carolina Senate, where it got quick treatment from the Senate Judiciary committee, and sent to the full Senate for a vote in late March. 

So far, this is a great story. Young child, interested in fossils and history, trying to honor the fossil for her state. The bill to make this happens sails through the state House, and quickly moves through initial review in the Senate.

But this is South Carolina, and here comes that whoopee cushion.

On 25 March 2014, while HB 4482 was under discussion in the Senate, Kevin L. Bryant (R-District 3) sought to amend the bill to acknowledge Genesis 1:24-25, which describes the sixth day of creation, to recognize that some “god” was responsible for creating the Animal Kingdom. It was reported that Bryant explained on his website, “I attempted to recognize the creator.” Bryant’s amendment was ruled out of order based on parliamentary rules.

So did Bryant give up? Not when you have a whoopee cushion to make a great sound. So he doubled-down on his effort, and he sought to amend the bill to add “as created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field” after each instance of “mammoth.” This amended bill passed the South Carolina Senate by a vote of 35-0 (so that means progressive Democrats voted for it), and was sent back to the Senate, where they could change the Senate wording.

There you go. The South Carolina whoopee cushion just let out the best flatulence sound ever

Note. for those of you who actually accept science as the most accurate description of the age of the planet and evolution of organisms. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and we have no evidence that it was created by anything other than the accretion of material from the early Solar System. Life on Earth arose 3.7 billion years and is described by the theory of abiogenesis, that is that life arose from organic compounds. The Columbian mammoth appears to evolved in North America around 126,000 years ago, dying out at the end of the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago. There are some unreliable information about Columbian mammoth remains dating to around 7600 years ago. In other words, the mammoth died out before it was even created in Christian religious myths.

A second note. See, no vaccines. Or Chili’s. But if Chili’s is making chili with vaccinated mammoth meat, I will certainly discuss it here. It would be an awesome story.

A third note. Because I was spending so much time on vaccines and Chili’s, I didn’t get to this article earlier. I’m like a week late, and on the internet that’s like 5 years late.

One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong

I’ve been told that I need to quit relying on the peer-reviewed journals for my scientific knowledge, because they are paid for by Big Government, Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Hebrew and Big Whatever. They’re all just big with every single person involved dedicated to providing information to fool the people of earth. 

Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.
Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.

Apparently, the only acceptable type of research is doing it yourself using Google. Or in a pinch, Bing. 

Because I wanted to be more open-minded and to learn the Truth™ about everything. And here’s what I found. Continue reading “One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong”

Religious exemptions for vaccination – abuse and reform

In November 2013, the New Mexico Department of Health published the results of a survey examining people getting an exemption from school immunization requirementsThe survey found that most people getting an exemption – 54.9% – explained their reasons to be “philosophical” or personal belief, including concerns about vaccine harms, a preference for natural immunity, and a belief they could protect their children in other ways. 

The problem is that New Mexico does not offer a personal belief exemption. It offers medical exemptions and religious exemptions for vaccination only. In other words, these people got their vaccine exemption using an exemption that did not reflect their real reasons.

Our host, the Skeptical Raptor, invited me to describe an article I wrote on this that is forthcoming in the Hastings Law Journal. The article argues that:

Poll: Vaccine Exemptions

Americans are ignorant fools about evolution–Part 2

We have fossils. Evolution wins.One of the more crazy anti-science groups are the evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists.” The body of science that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record. Based on this nearly irrefutable evidence, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science was a democracy, evolution would win in a landslide of epic proportions.

The scientific theory of evolution simply states that there is a change in inherited characteristics of a biological population, over time and generations, through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the misunderstanding, by intention or ignorance, by creationists about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun or that gravity causes objects to fall to the earth.

There is no genuine scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.

Despite the ongoing scientific discussion regarding other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no disputes, among scientists, about the fact that evolution commenced when the first living organisms appeared over 3.8 billion years. None. Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in any real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.

Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Though this legislation is rarely successful, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently passed antievolution bills. The right wing politicians, mostly in southern US states, are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they conflate a ridiculous political and social argument with a scientific debate.  Continue reading “Americans are ignorant fools about evolution–Part 2”

Father sues New York to obtain religious vaccination exemption for son

vax-jesus-doctorAccording to the New York Daily News, a Staten Island father has sued the City and State of New York to block his four year old son from being tossed out of school because their parents refuse to vaccinate him:

A Staten Island father is suing the city and the state after his 4-year-old son was booted from pre-K class because of the parents’ objection to vaccines.

The father, identified only as P.R. in the lawsuit over the contentious issue, is a Catholic who had sought a religious exemption to the state law requiring that every child attending a public, private or parochial school must be immunized from 11 communicable diseases.

His son was removed from his public school classroom on Dec. 23 after city Department of Education officials rejected the father’s appeal of an earlier decision. The city concluded the paperwork he submitted “does not substantiate … that you hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to immunization,” according to the suit.

Last month, the city added a requirement that children under 5 who attend preschool or day care must get flu shots.

The boys’ parents filed an affidavit Monday stating they believe that “immunization demonstrates a great lack of faith in the gift of health and the promise of protection that we are given at birth and through baptism we put our child in the hands of the Lord … God wants us to put our faith for disease prevention in him exclusively. Continue reading “Father sues New York to obtain religious vaccination exemption for son”