Time for Civility Regarding Vaccination

by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, AOBOMM, ABIHM
Cleveland Ohio

What has happened to civility in our society? Why does it seem impossible to engage in a civil discussion on vaccines and public health? According to The Institute for Civility in Government:

 “Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing with respect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s pre-conceptions, and teaching others to do the same.

“Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s is ignored.”

Over the last few weeks there have been a barrage of articles accusing parents of being irresponsible for not vaccinating their children with the Measles-Mumps-Rubella [MMR] vaccine. There have been calls for jailing parents who have not vaccinated and threats against medical doctors who speak out about problems associated with vaccines, including calls for their license to be revoked.

vaccine-chairWhat has not been mentioned is that the argument is old. It started in Great Britain, shortly after Jenner’s invention. While citizens wanted to be protected against smallpox, which killed tens of thousands up through 1900, many were repulsed at the idea of smearing cow pus across a cut placed on the arm of their child. Some became loudly anti-vaccine after their child contracted gangrene from the inoculation and died. These deaths were deemed to be, “for the good of the whole.”

With the passage of the first compulsory vaccination law in 1853, the battle lines were drawn and the clash between the necessity of inoculation and the right to refuse began. In 1840, smallpox vaccinations were offered across the U.K. for free by the early equivalent of today’s public health clinics. Since free inoculations didn’t increase the rate of vaccine uptake, the 1853 Compulsory Vaccination Act was passed. Without an enforcement provision in the law, the vaccination rate remained around 60%. This was deemed to be too low to stop the spread of the disease. Therefore, a second compulsory law was passed in 1867 that provided the necessary mechanisms for collecting fines and jailing those who refused.d is that the arguments are old. They started in Great Britain, shortly after Jenner

vaccinationThe 1867 law compelled Health officers, called Law Guardians, to go door-to-door, vaccinating all infants considered to be “nuisances, dirty, vile and filled with disease.” (Durbach, pgs 9, 22-23.) Physicians who failed to vaccinate or falsified a vaccination certificates could be prosecuted and fined. Parents who refused to vaccinate could be taken to court and fined repeatedly for up to 14 years, or until they complied. Hundreds had their homes and possessions seized and sold to pay the fines. If they had no goods to sell, the father could be imprisoned for up to 2 weeks. As many as 2,000 parents per year were jailed, and many were repeatedly prosecuted for resisting vaccination or for defaulting on the fines.

The confiscations and fines were especially burdensome for the poor and working classes. In 1853, riots, marches, and protests periodically broke out. The enforcement provisions in the 1867 Act lead to the formation of the Anti-Vaccination League, an organization that grew to more than 20,000 active members. The professionals in the organization included physicians who had cared for patients injured by the smallpox vaccine, and had observed many cases of smallpox after Jenner’s “cow-poxing.” Parents involved in anti-vaccination protests had personal experiences with vaccine disasters. Many protested based on principle alone: the right to refuse animal matter being injected into the body.

vaccination - 27One of the early campaigns was called “Our Babies Battle.” Campaigns to repeal Compulsory Vaccination involved local hiding children, demonstrations, acts of civil disobedience, and voluntary incarceration. Resistance was lead by individuals whose children had been injured or died by vaccination. Anti-vaccinationists were ignored and dismissed by local authorities – then and today – and were labeled as “anti-authority fringe” and “anti-government lunatics.”

The battle between compulsion and the right to refuse raged on until the passage of the 1898 Vaccination Act, which introduced the ability to refuse to vaccinate based on conscientious objection. The precedent for conscientious objection in Britain had been long established. The Oaths Act of 1888 allowed those to refuse to swear an oath if it was contrary to their religious belief. The Education Act of 1870 allowed parents to exempt their children from religious prayers or teachings in the public school system if the content was contrary to their religious beliefs. Those who refused vaccines were familiar with these arguments and used them to oppose vaccination as a legally protected right.

MagazinesSimilar to today’s objectors, conscientious objectors were neither irrational nor negligent. They maintained that they were intelligent, loving and devoted parents, protecting their children from the repulsiveness and dangers of vaccination. After the passage of the 1898 Act, more than 203,000 certificates of objection were issued in the first year.

A Royal Commission on Vaccination, appointed in 1889, investigated the concerns of the objectors. Seven years later, the commission concluded that vaccination should remain compulsory but parents would retain the right to refuse if they were “honestly opposed.” To separate those who were “objecting responsibly” from those who were “simply negligent,” a parent was required to appear before a magistrate who must be satisfied that the request was legitimate before honoring the right to refuse. Washington is one of several states have recently passed similar laws.

Vaccine Rally -- DCOur Babies Battle rages on in 2015. The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) receives more than 12,000 filings each year, ranging from a sore arm, to seizure disorders, to a long list of neurological and autoimmune disorders and even death. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has paid out more than $2.8Billion in injury awards since its inception in 1986. Pro-vaccine supporters sling mud, calling highly educated, well researched, and informed parents “negligent and irresponsible” when they choose to not inject their children with solutions of known toxicity and a track record of serious harm. All forms of mainstream, social media and now even politics are being used to threaten parents and doctors who do not support the vaccine paradigm.

The vitriolic accusations of the pro-vaccine campaigns must stop. Instead of clamoring that vaccines are “completely safe and mostly harmless,” research examining the effect vaccines have on rapidly developing tissues is past due. Meta studies cannot adequately assess the role vaccines have played in the current state of poor health seen in our children. It is time to engage in civil dialogue about the true necessity of vaccinating every child with every vaccine. With today’s medical advances in genomics and mitochondrial testing, we must begin to take into consideration family history and the current health challenges of both children and adults prior to vaccinating. We have the tools to assess those who could be harmed by vaccinating… and offer other suggestions for avoiding infections.

RedCheckMarkListThe ultimate study would compare the health of a matched set of fully vaccinated children to the health of completely unvaccinated children. Compare the difference between the number of days of school missed per year due to illness. Tabulate the number of daily pharmaceutical drugs each group is taking. Document how many courses of antibiotics have they had in the first three years of life. Is the real reason that the CDC refuses to do this study is because they do not want to know the answer?

The mainstream media has created circuses over a few cases of a viral infection – measles, mumps, influenza, chickenpox and others – simply because we have a vaccine, an injection assumed (but not guaranteed) to prevent the spread of the illness, an injection that can cause a lifetime of illness, even death. Public health must be more than high vaccination rates and low infection rates of a very short list of infectious disease.

The truth is that vaccines can and do cause harm. It is appropriate to want to intelligently protect humans – children and adults – from any medical procedure, including vaccination, that can cause long term disability, even death. There are other protective measures that can be offered to minimize illness. Accusatory statements only serve to inflame an already hostile dialogue. It is time to introduce civility into the discussion of vaccination – and demand respect for those who have a constitutionally protected right to refuse.

References used for this blog:

  1. Dissolving Illusions, by Dr. Suzanne Humphries and Roman Bystrianyk
  2. Bodily Matters, by Nadja Durbach
  3. The Politics of Vaccination, by Deborah Brunton
  4. The History and Pathology of Vaccination, by Edgar M. Crookshank (1889)



  1. I loved that you posted this. A lot of people are very judgmental when it comes to vaccinating their children. It’s a scary thought either way; to vaccinate and then them get sick, or to not vaccinate and they still get sick.

    • Most completely unvaccinated kids are very healthy – rarely get sick, don’t miss school and are on few, if any, daily medications.

  2. I am wondering if anybody has any information on schools making you get vaccinated to get into the health programs. I am trying to get into a Radiography Program and the Dean will not let me into the program since I have not been vaccinated. They said that I would not be able to graduate because there will be no establishment that will let me take clinicals do to lack of vaccination. Has anybody else had issues with this? Or has anybody found a way around it? HELP!

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