Monday, December 13, 2004

Update on Chickenpox

A small update on two fronts: the personal and the political.

On the personal front, it turned out that there is no chickenpox at preschool, and so Parker didn't have to be excluded and miss the Holiday party next week. Coincidentally, a women who I would love to spend time with had chickenpox at her house, and I literally stayed awake at night trying to decide if I should expose my kids to it. We've had a few chances now - the first time I didn't want to because I was nervous about it and because Parker would have been sick just as preschool started. The second time my kids were accidentally exposed by friends we invited to dinner (their youngest came down with it the next day). After that exposure I felt ready to deal with a chickenpox outbreak at my house, but they didn't get it. This last time I vacillated many times - I felt the coercion that the exclusion policy is intended to produce. I didn't feel pushed to vaccinate, however, I felt pressure to have my son get chickenpox so that he is no longer vulnerable to the exclusion regulation. In the end I decided to wait. My youngest is 8 months old, and my two-year old doesn't eat well, so I don't think that it is a good time to invite illness into the family. I hope to have a chance to expose them in two or more years, when they are 2, 4 and 7 years-old, or older.

On the policy front, I talked with a volunteer for a vaccination choice group in Massachusetts. He said that the exclusion rule is a new regulation as of August 2004, and it is being enforced. I asked about legal routes and he said he had talked to a mother who was considering that, but with the cost of a lawyer at $300 an hour, really couldn't afford it. Who could? There's another rant in that topic I'm afraid, on access to the legal system when the cost of challenging a discriminatory regulation is financially out of reach. This group has considered creating a legal assistance fund, but has been busy with other priorities. He said that the stated purpose of the regulation is to protect people who are immunocomprimised. I would think there were more common threats than chickenpox - like influenza. The intent is to exclude people who have had significant exposure. He also said that the final arbiter of the regulation is the school - usually the principal and the school nurse. So I have some bridges to mend!

Even the religious exemption is under attack in many states. It may be safe in Massachusetts because Christian Scientists, who are numerous, will work to retain it. Massachusetts has no philosophical exemption, so my family has claimed the religious exemption to avoid required vaccination to attend school. We were already considering homeschooling (or my preferred term, community-based learning), but these two roadblocks - the chickenpox exclusion and required vaccination - may tip the scale.

I strongly believe in informed consent for any medical procedure. Every treatment has benefits and risks, and I think it should be the right of each individual (or their guardian) to weigh the risks and benefits for their circumstances. But in the case of vaccination and many other procedures, informed consent means "we inform you of the risks, and you consent to the procedure." Why is that? Why even bother with the consent part if no one can say no?

No comments: