MADISON, Wis. – For medical experts, vaccinating is a matter of public health. For parents rallying at the Capitol on Saturday, the issue comes down to their rights.
With measles outbreaks in surrounding states, an area infectious disease expert believes it’s just a matter of time until the disease makes its way to Wisconsin. So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 839 cases of measles have been confirmed in the country, the greatest number of cases since 1994 and since measles were declared eliminated in 2000.
That’s spurring proposed legislation in Wisconsin to get rid of a personal conviction waiver allowing parents to exclude children attending schools from getting vaccinated.
Wisconsin United for Freedom, the group that organized the rally Saturday, hopes to raise awareness for various freedoms, including being able to use personal conviction waivers for vaccination.
“We’re just here to let it be known that we call the shots as parents and citizens of the U.S.,” said Amber Psket, president and co-founder of Wisconsin United for Freedom.
Psket said after her 2-month-old son had a bad reaction to a vaccine, she wanted more of a say.
“It was really eye-opening to the fact that I didn’t even think about it as a parent. It was status quo to vaccinate,” she said. “I have an autoimmune disorder. My children are genetically susceptive to harm from vaccinations. I should have the right as a parent to refuse vaccinations without a doctor’s note, essentially.”
She said the proposed bill eliminating the vaccination personal conviction waiver is one of the main reasons she and other protesters took to the Capitol but added, “it’s not a vaccine rally. This is a freedom rally. We’re here for all freedoms — Second Amendment rights, alternative health, holistic health.”
“We just feel like the government is going a little too far and encroaching on our civil liberties and family autonomy,” Psket said. “We’re the parent. We know our kids better than anybody.”
Amidst rising measles cases nationwide, vaccine hesitancy seems to be growing as well. The group Wisconsin United For Freedom is at the Capitol today protesting a proposed bill that would make it harder for parents to skip vaccinating their children. #News3Now pic.twitter.com/2qlQ8F246x
— Madalyn O’Neill (@news3madalyn) May 18, 2019
“Vaccine hesitancy is unfortunately a rising trend in the U.S,” said Dr. James Conway, professor of pediatrics at UW-Health.
Conway said medical experts are also seeing rising outbreaks of diseases like measles, at one point declared eliminated.
“The sad thing is, we were on pace to eradicate this disease by 2020 or 2025, and now we’re back to where we started in many ways,” he said.
Conway said vaccines are tested in hundreds of thousands of people before being brought to market and then continually scrutinized from there.
“The most important thing is reassuring people that vaccines are one of the most important public health measures we ever invented, and every kid deserves an opportunity to be protected against diseases that may disable or kill them,” he said. “All of these vaccine-preventable diseases we worry about are horrible. I’m one of the few that has seen each and every disease we vaccinate against. I’ve watched children die and suffer if they survive.”
Psket said after doing research of her own, which she recommends for others, she doesn’t worry about diseases like measles on the rise.
“God gave us a defense mechanism in our immune system in our bodies. They’re designed perfectly,” Psket said. “You’ve got to trust in your body and your natural immune system.”
Conway hopes vaccine skeptics will recognize misinformation spreads on the internet and trust in medical experts.
“We have an obligation in health care to help people better understand what the real facts are about these things,” he said. “We hope they’ll engage with us and look to us as authorities to help them understand the issues they’re wrestling with.”
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