Barbara Loe Fisher, believes her son, Chris, developed a brain injury from a vaccine.

On Wednesday, Fisher, as a mom and as head of the National Vaccine Information Center, received a standing ovation from a standing room only crowd after testifying at a meeting of a Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) subcommittee that has been asked to consider removing Virginia’s religious exemption for mandated vaccinations. 

“In 1980, my oldest child suffered a brain inflammation encephalopathy within hours of his fourth DPT shot. He was left with minimal brain injury that required him to be in a self-contained classroom for the learning disabled for the entire 12 years in a special education classroom in Virginia,” said Fisher.

Parents showed up in droves – virtually all of them dawned from head to toe in red (red signifying support for the current exemption) – with most of them bringing their young children along.  The roughly 300-seat room overflowed with easily 400 or more highly motivated and obviously well-informed activists. The murmur of babies and toddlers filled the chambers for a full hour and a half, as they all seemed to stand or sit patiently and attentively in the hot and crowded room. How that was possible, I will never know!

Lesson for Virginia legislators: don’t mess with parental rights or religious liberty.

At issue was a study initiated to consider whether the religious exemption in the law for mandatory childhood vaccinations should be removed. If the crowd was any indication, a good number of parents believe it should stay – citing any number of reasons including parental authority, bona fide religious objections, and the risk of serious complications and even death to the child.

The designated speaker in favor of removing the religious exemption expressed concerns that not having some children vaccinated could put all children at risk of contracting certain preventable diseases. Though well-spoken and professional, her remarks were met with silence.          

What we do know is that Virginia has a high rate of vaccination and a very low rate of infectious disease.  There is no health crisis and there is no compelling reason to remove the longstanding exemption.  One speaker noted that only 1.1% of all kindergarten students in Virginia request any exemption – including for religious and medical reasons. The law of Virginia already allows for the state to suspend the exemption in case of an epidemic, so the fear mongering by opponents of the exemption that it is a health risk are unfounded.

The subcommittee took no action at the meeting, but the JCHC will ultimately make a recommendation to the General Assembly based on their findings. We have to hope that the fact that so many concerned and knowledgeable parents made a strong appearance, the Commission will get the message that parents are better equipped to make these decisions for their children than the government.