Vaccines or else: Parents blast order for schoolchildren

Posted on Sep 20, 2008 in Autism, Heavy Metals

UPPER MARLBORO, Maryland (CNN) — A crowd of frustrated parents gathered on a chilly Saturday morning outside Prince George’s County Circuit Court to comply with an order from the school system to have their children vaccinated — or else.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, whose office began the effort, was at the courthouse to answer questions.

Judge C. Philip Nichols, who signed the letters threatening parents with jail or fines, said he felt the tactic worked.

“We got a thousand kids back in school just by sending one letter,” he said.

Nichols ordered parents to come to court Saturday to either immunize the children on the spot, or to provide proof that they already had their shots, according to The Associated Press.

Families who failed to comply could face 10 to 30 days in jail.

“[The schools] started out with phone calls, even home visits, and this became a last resort for parents who wouldn’t comply one way or another,” Ivey said.

All states require school-age children to be immunized against diseases such as mumps, measles and polio. But the parents said they objected to the heavy-handed way Ivey has handled the issue.

Families could opt out of the required shots by providing medical or religious waivers. Citing cases of serious adverse reactions, some parents worry about the safety of vaccines.

“The patient should have a choice. I just don’t think Big Brother should have that much power,” said Donna Hurlock, a physician and activist concerned about parental rights and privacy issues.

Jim Moody was among the parents protesting the policy.

“There are serious considerations for safety that need to be addressed before compelling people to get vaccines,” he said.

Public health officials said the benefits of vaccinations against childhood diseases outweigh the risks.

Some parents who received letters saying they were not in compliance with the vaccination mandate complained that it was the fault of the school system, which they described as disorganized.

“It was the school’s mistake. [My daughter] didn’t have documentation. This is the second or third time we had to redo her again because her shot records got misplaced,” Ron Brooking told CNN.

Authorities said they will decide in the next few days what to do with families who refused to obey the vaccination order.

Ivey was still mulling whether to prosecute parents not in compliance.

“We have to sit down with school and health services,” he told the AP. “We haven’t ruled anything out. We need to figure out where we stand.”

The parents of about 1,700 children received letters from Ivey reminding them of the consequences for not complying, said John White, spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools.

That number was down to 1,111 by Thursday, and was reduced to 939 children by Saturday evening, he said.

White said that number was the lowest since since a law requiring additional vaccinations went into effect January 1.

But “obviously, we still have some more work to do,” he told the AP.

101 vaccinations were administered at the courthouse and 71 records were updated, he said.