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Opposite Opinions: How Divorce And Custody Affect Child Vaccination

Vaccines prevent approximately 2.5 million deaths every year. Despite this proven fact, many parents are choosing to opt out of their children’s vital vaccinations. The argument is a contentious one: anti-vax ideology is based on a fraudulent study performed in 1998 that linked the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to autism. Though the study has since been revealed to be falsified and altogether incorrect, many parents are terrified of the repercussions vaccines could have on their children.

This is a problem in and of itself; in the three months since 2019 began, 314 individual cases of measles have been reported and confirmed in 15 states. Though the nation is in the midst of an epidemic, the anti-vax mentality becomes much more personal when the parents of an unvaccinated child are divorced — and have differing opinions on whether or not that child should be vaccinated.

Divorce And Custody

When two people get divorced and share a child, a decision must be made regarding custody. Although children age 12 and older are permitted to speak privately with the judge regarding their preferences, the ruling depends on which parent the judge considers to be the most “fit” to raise a child. If one parent has sole custody, they have the right to vaccinate — or request an exemption — for their child regardless of the other parent’s wishes; the other parent would need to take them to court to fight for their right if they were unhappy with it.

In situations of joint custody, things get more complicated. In an ideal world, both parents and the child’s physician would come together to discuss the best option for their health. If they are unable to come to an agreement, neither would be able to do anything over the objection of the other parent. Just like the previous scenario, the parent seeking vaccination would need to submit an order to a judge, wherein both parents would argue their cases, which could include the child’s medical history as well as testimony from the child’s medical providers.

High Risks

Unfortunately, there is more than just a parent’s pride at stake here. In order for herd immunity to protect your unvaccinated child from measles, between 93% and 95% of the nation’s population must be inoculated against it. In 2016, only 91.1% of American children had received their MMR vaccine. In Clark County, Oregon, the epicenter of the biggest outbreak in the northwestern U.S., that number was a startling 77.4%.

This is a disease that was declared eradicated in the U.S. in the year 2000. In addition to the health — and life — of your own child, newborns, those with immune disorders, and those undergoing cancer treatments are all susceptible to the debilitating symptoms and complications that can arise from contracting measles; from pneumonia to encephalitis (swelling of the brain), the dangers of refusing a vaccination are immense and very real. If you and your ex-spouse disagree over whether or not to inoculate your child, keep this information in mind.

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