The Daily Texan 
Friday, October 17, 2008
As flu season approaches, many New Jersey parents are furious over a first-in-the-nation requirement that children get a flu shot in order to attend preschools and day-care centers. The decision should be the parents’, not the state’s, they contend.
Hundreds of parents and other activists rallied outside the New Jersey Statehouse on Thursday, decrying the policy and voicing support for a bill that would allow parents to opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their children.
“This is not an anti-vaccine rally — it’s a freedom of choice rally,” said one of the organizers, Louise Habakus. “This one-size-fits-all approach is really very anti-American.”
New Jersey’s policy was approved last December by the state’s Public Health  Council and is taking effect this fall. Children from 6 months to 5 years old who attend a child-care center or preschool have until Dec. 31 to receive the flu vaccine, along with a pneumococcal vaccine.
The Health Council was acting on the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has depicted children under 5 as a group particularly in need of flu shots. But no other state has made the shots mandatory for children of any age.
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“Vaccines not only protect the child being vaccinated but also the general community and the most vulnerable individuals within the community,” New Jersey’s Health Department said in a statement. It has depicted young children as “particularly efficient” in transmitting the flu to others.
Opposition to the policy is vehement. Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, one of the speakers at the rally, said she now has 34 co-sponsors for a bill that would allow for conscientious objections to mandatory vaccinations.
“The right to informed consent is so basic,” she said in an interview. “Parents have a right to decide for their own children what is injected in their bodies.”
State policy now allows for medical and religious exemptions to mandatory vaccinations, but Vandervalk said requests for medical exemptions often have been turned down by local health authorities. She said 19 other states allow conscientious exemptions like those envisioned in her bill.
New Jersey’s health department has come out strongly against the legislation.
“Broad exemptions to mandatory vaccination weaken the entire compliance and enforcement structure,” it said.
The department also contends that New Jersey is particularly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases – with a high population density, a mobile population and many recently arrived immigrants.
“In light of New Jersey’s special traits, the highest number of children possible must receive vaccines to protect them and others,” the department said.
Several hundred people attended Thursday’s rally, some with signs reading, “Mommy knows best.”
Among the speakers was Robin Stavola of Colts Neck, N.J., who said her daughter, Holly, died in 2000 at age 5 less than two weeks after receiving eight different vaccines, including a booster shot.
“I am not against vaccines, but I do believe there are too many,” she told the crowd.