Editor's note: The sources in this story are identified by first names only to protect their privacy, at their request.
A handful of parents showed up to the Aug. 20 San Luis Coastal Unified School District board meeting to speak out against a vaccine bill that was recently introduced in the state Legislature, Senate Bill 276.
Nicole is one of those parents. She has two children who have both gone through the recommended vaccination schedules without any adverse side effects that she's aware of.
"I was one of those people who had trust in doctors and did what, you know, I'm supposed to do," she said.
Nicole said she didn't question her doctors or the statewide regulations on vaccines until 2015 when SB 277 went into effect. The law eliminated the option for parents to claim personal belief exemptions for their children—an exemption from vaccinations if getting them contradicts the guardian's religious or spiritual beliefs.
Now, with the introduction of SB 276—a bill that would prohibit an unvaccinated student from attending school unless their physician files an electronic statement and medical report into a statewide database—Nicole said it feels like the government is forcing her to get her kids vaccinated.
"So I started my research, and holy shit. What I learned, it just tore me apart," she said.
Nicole has two major concerns (among many): the difficulty of using the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 and the lack of routine testing for side effects of FDA-approved vaccines.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program as a federal no-fault compensation system for individuals who may have been injured by certain vaccines. The act also established a program to direct vaccine research and development within the federal government; ensure the production of safe and effective vaccines; direct the distribution and use of vaccines; and coordinate government and nongovernment activities.
"So the pharmaceuticals have zero input, they have zero liability. It's all on the government, and our tax dollars are paying for this program," Nicole said. "They say it was set up so that it was an easy way to compensate parents, but in fact it's extremely challenging."
She feels that it's morally wrong for the government to make parents vaccinate their children for illnesses that once were epidemics, such as polio. Nicole wants to know where the controlled studies are that look into the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines now.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, vaccines go through many years of safety and effectiveness testing, including lab tests and clinical trials with volunteers who get vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looks at the results of the tests and decides whether to license the vaccine for use.
The Department of Health and Human Services also monitors a vaccine's safety after it gets recommended to the FDA. Once vaccines are licensed, they are monitored for possible side effects.
There are several systems that track the safety of vaccines in the United States, including the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS is a national surveillance program run by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the FDA that detects early warning signs of possible safety issues with vaccines.
According to VAERS, it receives about 30,000 reports each year. Of those reports, about 85 to 90 percent of the reports describe mild side effects such as fever, arm soreness, and crying or mild irritability. The rest of the reports are classified as serious, resulting in permanent disability, hospitalization, life-threatening illness, or death. According to VAERS, "while these problems happen after vaccination, they are rarely caused by the vaccine."
Danielle, who spoke to New Times after the Aug. 20 school board meeting, is a registered nurse. She said she's witnessed the effects of different vaccines in patients and her own children.
She said her son was on the recommended vaccination schedule, but she would spread out the time between shots.
"He got the Prevnar vaccine [used to prevent pneumococcal disease], and when we got home he went limp and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. You could say he went to sleep, but I've seen kids have seizures before, and it was a mild seizure," Danielle said.
Before that personal experience with her child, she said she saw both sides of the issue—why some parents don't trust vaccines and the government's strong influence on regulation as well as a doctor's advice to recommend vaccination.
Danielle said she spoke during public comment at the school board meeting because she wanted to educate the board on SB 276, some of the questionable ingredients (traces of aluminum and mercury) in vaccines, and how these regulations will affect unvaccinated children in her community.
"It really is up to them to decide to kick out all these kids. We're hoping to get their support," she said.
Assistant Superintendant Kimberly McGrath told New Times that the district adheres to the law, so if SB 276 passes, "We are obligated to follow it."Δ
Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.