Vaccine Resistance Linked to Religious Objections

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School is about to start, which means it's time for public health officials to start reminding parents about immunizations--and to start worrying about those who refuse. As we've reported in the past, Washington state is an epicenter of the anti-vaccine movement, one grounded in an affluent, crunchy-chewy subculture.But that's not the only subculture involved.

Matthew Blessing, a pediatrician who works at the University of Washington's Kent/Des Moines clinic says that he's increasingly been seeing parents with religious objections to vaccines. State Department of Health spokesperson Michele Roberts says she's aware of this constituency, which, while not the biggest in the anti-vaccine movement, has been around for some time.

A characteristic website coming from this strain of the movement is maintained by a Florida-based group, Catholic group called called Children of God for Life. The group objects to the CDC's recommended immunization schedule because, as an article on its website claims, "nearly a third of these immunization shots may contain vaccines derived from aborted fetal cells."

Among such "ethically"-compromised vaccines, according to a chart included in the article, are those for hepatitis A, chickenpox and measles, mumps and rubella.

"Whether a particular immunization is even needed for children in a typical traditional Catholic family may be debatable," the article goes on, without elaborating. In any case, it says: "As a Catholic parent, one has a duty to avoid the use of serums derived from these aborted fetal cells, if possible."

The DOH's Roberts says her office tries to combat such sentiments by giving parents more information. She refers them, for instance, to the website of the National Network for Immunization Information, which explains that some vaccines "are grown in cell cultures that were originally obtained from two human fetuses." Yet, the website points out, "The abortions were not conducted for the purpose of vaccine discovery" and, perhaps more importantly, that "additional abortions are not needed for the production of these vaccines."

The National Network for Immunization Information also notes that the Catholic Church itself, through the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican, has encouraged parents to think twice before withholding immunizations from their child. While saying that vaccines derived from aborted fetuses raise moral qualms, a 2005 statement by the Pontifical Academy stressed that the vaccines may be necessary to protect children.

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