Evaluating Novel and Relevant Information for Children's Health and Emotional Development
State Law and Exemptions
שאלה: non-vaccinated children are said to pose a risk to other children and teachers, especially pregnant teachers, in the school they attend. Do parents have the right to refuse vaccinating their school-age children? May the principal refuse to let unvaccinated children attend school, even when the parents of such children have produced a valid religious exemption?
תשובה: This שאלה is based on the assumption that vaccines are as effective and safe as promoted by the government, pharmaceutical companies and most pediatricians. Although there is no doubt that vaccines are able to produce immunogenicity responses, thus conferring some protection from disease, there is also no doubt that vaccines may at times cause serious adverse events, neurological or immunologic damage, and death. Therefore, we will have to investigate to what degree are vaccines effective and to what degree they are safe, in order to address this שאלה properly.
Nevertheless, I would like to preface this presentation with a topic that requires no medical, scientific or statistical knowledge, and yet, may well resolve our שאלה. I will then address the issues of vaccination safety and effectiveness.
To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: The Halachic Viewpoint
Preserving someone's life is a biblical commandment that takes precedence over all other commandments. As such, one is obligated to desecrate Shabbos in order to save oneself or another person from danger. If a person is in a situation of pikuach nefesh and a medical treatment can possibly save him without increasing his risks, he is obligated to undergo this treatment, lest he transgress the commandment of ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם. However, if the treatment carries risks, he is not necessarily obligated or even permitted to take the treatment. Consider a person who is suffering from cancer and his only option is chemotherapy. If the success rate of the treatment is greater than the risks it carries, he may be obligated to undergo the treatment. But if the risks of succumbing to this type of chemo are greater than the chances of being cured, it is very questionable whether subjecting himself to this course of treatment is permitted altogether (שו"ת אגרות משה יו"ד ח"ב סי' נ"ח, ח"ג סי' ל"ו, וחו"מ ח"ב סי' ע"ד אות ה').
Little Sarala was only nine years old when she received her diagnosis.
LEUKEMIA. The dreaded word shook her parents and entire family to the core. Innocent little Sarala was the life of the party, leader among her friends, and beloved to all. Her family and friends davened and rallied with all their might for a bone marrow donor to be found. With little choice and no time to wait, the doctors purified Sarala’s own bone marrow and had it reimplanted into her. Finally, Sarala was in remission. Her family welcomed her home with tears of relief and thanks to Hashem.
Alas, Sarala’s journey with illness was not over. Four years later… the dreaded disease returned with a vengeance. Now a maturing and sensitive teenager, Sarala understood full well that without a donor for a bone marrow transplant she will not make it this time. The doctors will not risk taking her own marrow again.
The Vaccine Debate and Halacha
In the last edition of The Kuntres, Rabbi Motti Sofer explored why most poskim are of the opinion that one has an obligation to vaccinate. The eloquently written article contained many facts, both historical and scientific. In this edition I wish to explore the dissent.
The Gemarah in Yevamos (92a) states that if Bais Din Hagadol errs, then those individuals who relied on Bais Din are usually exempt and only Bais Din must bring a korban. However, if Bais Din erred and paskened that Shabbos has concluded because they were under the impression that shkiah had arrived, but then it became apparent that the skies had merely darkened because of some clouds, then every individual that acted based upon that p’sak is liable to bring a private chatas. This is so because regarding matters of readily ascertainable facts, one cannot claim reliance on a p’sak halacha when the particulars are presented erroneously. It is therefore incumbent upon us to investigate and determine the true facts about the safety and efficacy of vaccines before we can arrive at a proper halachic conclusion.
NYS Yeshivas and Religious Exemptions
Question Presented: Can a yeshiva in New York State deny student applications for a religious exemption from immunizations?
Brief Answer: No. All schools, including yeshivas, are bound by New York State law regarding immunizations. This includes ALL the requirements, including a mandate to accept religious waivers.
My Kids, My Choice
New York State Law requires that each child is immunized to go to school. Here's the law.
There are two exemptions: medical (see section 8 of the law) and religious (section 9 of the law).
First, the medical:
If you can get a doctor to write the exact phrasing of the law, you might get a waiver. The waiver must be specific. But even if it is, the school can reject it. Plus, doctors get hassled when they write them.
In NYC, DOH/ DOE employees tell parents that unless your kids has cancer or a transplant, the medical waiver 'DOES NOT WORK'. Employees of the DOH discourage parents from submitting doctor's notes because NYC knows better than the family pediatrician. Outrageous? So change the law.
Now for the religious:
You have to have a 'sincere and genuine' religious belief that is contrary to immunizations. So this means you have to really believe what you believe and it has to be based in God. So a government employee can judge if you're telling the truth about your God. And if they think you're lying, or it's not really all about God, you have to vaccinate your kid or he gets kicked out of school. So in order for you to legally believe what you believe, a school official has to believe you believe it. Or Johnny goes home. Yup.
So, depending on your school district, your request could be a witch hunt- or a wink and a nod.
Coalition For Informed Choice (CFIC)
If you agree, and reside in NYS, then you will want to join Coalition For Informed Choice (CFIC). For that statement is the baseline conviction of all those who want true informed consent. CFIC has assisted thousands of its members in obtaining religious exemptions for school, and to refrain from vaccination for their children in a safe manner---both medically and legally.
Founded in 1994, Coalition For Informed Choice (CFIC) is a free-to-join, non-partisan, statewide (NY only) coalition that includes parents, doctors, lawyers, teachers, college students and organizations. CFIC is the prime clearing house for all aspects involving resistance to vaccine mandates in NYS, through assisting individuals with the sometimes complex hurdles to obtain a religious waiver from the school vaccine requirements, and through formation of local and regional parent groups to lobby for CFIC's legislation to remove the restrictions in the exemption provisions in NYS law.
The views of our members comprise a wide spectrum of thought—from those who accept the general efficacy of vaccination, to those who reject it entirely. But all believe that "Informed Consent" implies a right to withhold consent.
New Jersey Coalition For Vaccination Choice (NJCVC)
NJCVC supports the parents/individuals’ right to freedom of choice in their healthcare decisions and the basic human right to decide which substances, if any, are injected into their bodies and that of their families.
NJCVC strongly opposes mass vaccination mandates, under any circumstances.
R' Chaim Kanievsky's Response
REVISED Statement on Vaccinations from the OU and RCA
Letter from Robbonim
NYS Request for Religious Exemption