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Will my child be reuired to vaccinate at school?

With the nationwide COVID vaccine rollout underway, some Arizona parents do not wish to vaccinate their school children. While the Supreme Court has held that states can mandate a vaccine during epidemics, Arizona’s laws provide for exemptions to vaccinations. Learn more below.

The challenges with the COVID vaccine

COVID has upended many lives and U.S. institutions. As the government and pharmaceutical companies continue to push a nationwide vaccination, one group has been absent from the priority groups: children.

Although kids represent a small but significant percentage of COVID cases, those very few patients have endured some of the most severe COVID symptoms.

The development of the vaccine was accompanied by the government program Operation Warp Speed, an ambitious goal that aims to “produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial does available by January 2021.”

As of this post, each state has reported shortages, leaving many clinics unsure about how many doses they will receive each week.

However, many parents are wary of a shot that has worked its way through the approval process at record speed. Overall, Americans are concerned with the vaccine itself. According to a USA Today Poll, two-thirds of voters do not want to get the COVID vaccine. The majority of those polled felt that the lack of data and potential long term effects of this fast-tracked vaccine are both reasons to remain hesitant.

To make matters, some experts say that schools will require students to get the vaccine. In Los Angeles, the second-biggest school system in the U.S., one school district superintendent stated that COVID vaccines will be required to return to school in person.

This potential school requirement is at odds with parents who simply do not wish to vaccinate their school children. This is the center of an ongoing debate that centers around a question that has been on many parents’ minds: will schools make any future vaccine mandatory for children?

How the law has treated vaccines in the past

A hot button issue for decades, the topic of required vaccines has been at the forefront of a dispute between two conflicting groups: parents who make decisions for their child’s health and safety, and the public concern with the spread of widespread illness.

Surprisingly, the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt with pandemics before, and whether vaccines should be mandatory in the case of Jacobson.

Jacobson vs Commonwealth of Massachusetts

In 1901, when the smallpox epidemic was rapid, a Swedish pastor refused to vaccinate himself and his son. When the city ordered vaccines door to door, the pastor refused and was fined $5 as a punishment.

He took the case up to the Supreme Court, arguing that the vaccine was dangerous, ineffective, and violated his 14th Amendment right, which disallowed the state from “depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The Supreme Court rejected the pastor’s arguments, and, in its written opinion, held that that:

“the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.”

From Jacobson, the “reasonableness” test was formed. Under the test, the government has the authority to pass laws that restrict individual liberty, as long as those laws were deemed a reasonable means for achieving public good. This goes for vaccines aimed to prevent pandemics, like smallpox or COVID.

In a later 1922 case, the Supreme Court again held that an individual state had the power to provide for compulsory vaccinations. The reasoning in both cases turned upon the protection of public health.

A COVID vaccine requirement for schools will be up to the State of Arizona

Under the Jacobson case, a vaccine requirement rests with state and school district levels. But, there are laws that allow parents to object to the vaccine. All states allow for exemptions. While there is debate on whether Jacobson applies in all instances relating to COVID, states nationwide have cited the case in shutting down businesses and prohibiting large gatherings.

According to an article by Education Week, a COVID vaccine for children is still a long way off. Per the article, it would be well into the 2020-21 school year before school children can start getting vaccinated.

There are three main exemptions that a parent should keep in mind when thinking about whether to vaccinate his or her child.

Exemptions based on medical reasons

Children with certain medical conditions can be granted an exemption, meaning they don’t have to show proof of vaccination in order to enter school. These conditions cannot be safely vaccinated because they have a condition that may lead to a bad reaction.

What counts as a medical exemption? That is a more complex question, much of which depends on the child. Dr. Waler A. Orenstein, a professor of medicine, epidemiology, global health, and pediatrics at Emory University stated that:

“[Doctors] have a very standard list as to what should and shouldn’t be considered a medical contraindication to vaccination…”

The CDC issued a list that details what may count as a medical condition that may give way to an exemption. To review that list, click here.

Exemptions based on religious reasons

Like other states, Arizona also allows exemptions based on religious reasons.

There are few religions that absolutely reject vaccines. Some of these religions include:

  • Churches relying on faith healing. Some of these include small Christian churches like the Church of the First Born, End-Time Ministries, Faith Assembly, Faith Tabernacle, and First Century Gospel Church.
  • Churches that believe in healing through prayer, and believe that vaccines are not necessary. Some of these churches include The First Church of Christ and Christian Science.

Other groups within other religions are likewise opposed to getting their kids and themselves vaccinated. These religious groups include some Amish, Dutch Reformed, and Muslim fundamentalists.

Exemptions based on personal reasons

Also called “personal-belief” exemptions, this exemption is much more contentious than the other two exemptions. In recent months, legal scholars have debated whether a parent should be able to claim an exemption for solely personal reasons.

However, Arizona avoids such debate by allowing the exemption under its own statute. A.R.S. 15-873 specifically allows for an exemption based on personal reasons. As the Statute indicates:

Documentary proof is not required for a pupil to be admitted to school if the following condition is met. The parent or guardian of the pupil submits a signed statement to the school administrator stating that the parent or guardian has received information about immunizations provided by the department of health services and understands the risks and benefits of immunizations and the potential risks of nonimmunization and that due to personal beliefs, the parent or guardian does not consent to the immunization of the pupil.

Final Thoughts

While other states like New Jersey, New York, and Oregon have considered stricter vaccination laws, Arizona does not.

With a new administration taking the reigns of a county devastated by COVID-19, President Biden’s legacy may come down to how he handles this health crisis. And with the death toll rising, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Where do you stand on this issue?

Questions? Call Chuck Franklin at (480) 545 – 0700. Mr. Franklin is experienced in these matters and is licensed to practice in local, state, federal, and appellate courts. Experience in these issues matter.

Close-up of a healthcare professional preparing a vaccine, with a focus on a syringe, symbolizing the importance of understanding Arizona's vaccine laws and medical practices.

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