TORONTO (CCN) — A 50 per cent increase in the percentage of parents making religious or conscientious objections to getting their kids vaccinated could translate into an extra 10,000 unvaccinated children in Ontario’s public and Catholic school systems, a new study shows.
The study by epidemiologists at Public Health Ontario found that between the 2003-04 and 2012-13 school years, the percentage of seven- and 17-year-old children with religious and conscientious objection exemptions from getting the standard vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella had risen from 1.05 to 1.54 per cent of students.
With just over two million kids in the combined public and Catholic education systems in Ontario, 1.5 per cent of students would translate into more than 30,000 unvaccinated children. The 50 per cent increase equals to about 10,000 more unvaccinated kids.
The study published online Sept. 16 as a Canadian Medical Association Journal open paper doesn’t explore the precise religious or conscientious objections, but abortion foes have been campaigning against the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella because of the association between the vaccine and abortion. The vaccine was originally created in 1964 in the United States using a human cell line prepared with lung tissue from an aborted fetus. A second cell line was derived from a 14-week-old fetus in in the United Kingdom in 1970.
A 1982 law, The Immunization of School Pupils Act, requires all school children to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, but allows for two categories of exemption. There are medical exemptions granted on the basis of a doctor or nurse practitioner’s recommendation that the vaccination may be harmful to a child with a compromised immune system, or on the basis of existing natural immunity.
For an exemption based on a religious or conscientious objection, parents or guardians must submit a notarized statement of conscience or religious belief.
At the Toronto Catholic District School Board, administrators are unaware of large-scale rejection of the vaccinations. Working with the City of Toronto Public Health, the school board policy keeps unvaccinated children out of the classroom.
“We will suspend the student or not allow the student to be in the class until their immunization records are updated and validated,” said TCDSB spokesperson John Yan. “That would include the MMR and all those (vaccines) required by Toronto Public Health. Those are infectious diseases that affect the general well-being of students in the class and certainly staff as well.”
A petition launched on LifeSiteNews.com six months ago protesting vaccines based on aborted fetal cell lines has attracted just over 4,000 page views. Anti-abortion blogs such as Children of God for Life and anti-vaccination sites such as Vaccine Risk Awareness have been campaigning against the vaccines based on the link to abortion.
Public Health Ontario researchers could only collect the number of religious and conscientious objections and not the precise reasons for objection.
It’s possible some of the religious and conscience objections come from people who believed a discredited, bogus study linking vaccines to attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, said Redemptorist bioethicist Rev. Mark Miller.
“That study has been totally discredited,” said Miller.
While the link with abortion for standard measles, mumps and rubella vaccines is real, that doesn’t mean Catholics should worry that they are co-operating with the evil of abortion by having their children vaccinated, said Miller. It would be difficult to establish how a child being vaccinated today would be helping to procure an abortion 50 years ago.
“We find, in such a case, a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles,” said a 2005 investigation by the Pontifical Academy for Life.
German measles are a severe risk to pregnant women and their unborn children and the vaccines’ link back to abortion is so tenuous that Catholic parents should vaccinate their children “to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole — especially for pregnant women,” said the Pontifical Academy for Life.
The Vatican’s bioethicists encourage parents and Catholics generally to pressure scientists and pharmaceutical companies to research alternatives to fetal-derived vaccines. But until such alternatives are available, children should continue to be vaccinated.
“Measles and rubella, if they are contracted by a woman who is pregnant, they cause severe damage to the fetus — to the point of death,” points out Miller. “Therefore, in weighing the benefits and burdens of these things, the (Vatican) document suggested that Catholic parents should get their children vaccinated against these things.”
The moral decision is mostly about the public good, said Miller.
“It’s a public health issue, whereas we often get it framed as a freedom issue — it’s my child, it’s my body and all this stuff,” he said. “Basically, what the church has always argued is for the common good. This is the scientific evidence and our moral tradition is that the scientific evidence tells us that this is a good for parents to use with their children.”