End unwarranted exemptions for immunizations


This week’s report that a number of schools on the Island have high exemption rates for vaccines is troubling. 

According to the latest data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Dukes County has the highest exemption rate in the state among kindergarteners by a large margin. The exemption rate on the Island is over 6 percent; Franklin County is the closest behind the Vineyard, with 4 percent.

Schools in Chilmark, Edgartown, West Tisbury, and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School are all within the top 25 highest exemption rates in Massachusetts; almost one in every four kindergartners at the Chilmark School received an exemption for at least one vaccine, the second highest rate of every elementary school in the entire state. 

The vast majority of these exemptions are reportedly for religious reasons. 

It’s hard to believe that religion played a role in all of these decisions by Chilmark parents. Some religions have shown resistance to vaccines, like the Orthodox Jewish community or the Dutch Reformed Church, but it’s unlikely those communities are thriving on the Island.

In comments to The Times, school officials acknowledge that religion isn’t what’s behind parents’ choice to not vaccinate their children. In her comments, Chilmark School Principal Susan Stevens said that some parents prefer not to overload their children with a number of vaccines all at once, and instead space them apart. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with religion.

It’s safe to assume that parents are feigning religion and imposing personal choice — likely based on “online research” and fringe theories. And they are playing with fire.

Vaccines could arguably be one of the greatest inventions of mankind. Inoculation from some viruses has kept incredibly dangerous and crippling diseases out of the public since the discovery of a vaccine against smallpox at the end of the 1700s. Smallpox led to the collapse of entire civilizations; it’s believed to have killed 1 in 3 people it infected, and left survivors scarred. Its wrath was felt around the world for centuries.

But now we don’t have to think about smallpox, because of the creation of a vaccine and the introduction of inoculation.

There are obviously other viruses and diseases that have popped up since smallpox, like polio and measles, each with devastating qualities. Those, too, were nearly wiped off the planet, but because some communities have been hesitant to vaccinate, they have threatened comebacks; some 600 individuals in New York City in 2018 and 2019 were diagnosed with measles. Polio made headlines recently with cases reported in First World countries including the U.S., Japan, and the U.K.

We don’t want to live in a world where these viruses persist. By not getting inoculated, we are at risk of not reaching herd immunity. 

The misuse of the religious exemption is selfish, dangerous, and harmful to the entire community. Herd immunity is an essential pillar of public health. The idea that one can withdraw at will is both wrong-headed and beside the point. We get vaccinated because the health of the entire community depends on it. 

Not only is it dangerous — using religion to excuse a child from getting a vaccine is deceitful. It undermines the significance of true religious exemptions.

And the idea that the unvaccinated can rightly say, “See, I told you,” when the vaccinated get sick — as we’ve seen recently with COVID-19 — is also just plain wrong. When there is no herd immunity, a virus is allowed to spread much more freely.

The idea that Chilmark ranks so high in the state for exemptions — in a community where parents have likely had every opportunity for a good education — is not only embarrassing, it’s sad. Science has proven again and again that vaccines work to build up immunity for a community, when there is broad buy-in.

For better or worse, the schools are the gatekeepers of public health, and they are disinclined to stand up to the parents involved. They have education to worry about. But state lawmakers do have an opportunity to show leadership. 

A bill has been filed that proposes ending religious exemptions for students in all public, private, and charter schools. If it becomes law, Chilmark and our other Island schools will likely see their exemption rates plummet.

In Maine, voters supported a similar measure with nearly 75 percent of the vote, and in the years following, exemptions for vaccines dropped from 6 percent down to 1 percent. Mississippi schools, where religious exemptions were forbidden, had some of the best inoculation rates in the country; however, a judge recently ordered Mississippi to abandon that rule, and to allow religious exemptions. It’s likely the state’s inoculation rates will suffer as a result.

It is shocking that a community as well off as Chilmark has such hesitation to vaccines, and it’s unfortunate. We hope that state lawmakers can step in and make an impact.


  1. You can educate people but you can’t
    fix stupid. I am all for the rights of
    people to refuse treatment for their children
    for religious reasons. If they choose to pray
    and god calls them home, well that’s what
    she wanted. Who are we to question god ?
    But I know a number of idiots who believe the
    conspiracy theories and have no actual religious
    beliefs. Liars at best. So let the idiots improve
    the genetic pool and let their kids die.
    Sad for the kids, but no parent will ever get a drop
    of sympathy from me if their kids die from an easily
    preventable disease when they choose to take the risk.
    But, by not getting their kids vaccinated they
    are endangering kids who can’t get vaccinated
    for various reasons.
    And we know that the vaccination protection is
    not 100% — This is reckless, uncaring, and a
    danger to our entire community.
    Please re- think it .

    • 95 percent vaccination rate for herd immunity for Measles. But you dont get herd immunity with Covid 19 because it is a mutating virus.

    • Keller rants on vaccines and sympathy for children who die from parental non vaccination but he has no such sympathy for the 50 million deaths from abortion and that parental neglect. Oh sorry–that is a whole other matter and its not killing.

    • Don, I think that even you would agree that exemptions should be given for any vaccine or injection if such interventions were not held to the same long-term safety tests and standards as any drug set to market. Is that not completely reasonable?

      • What’s not reasonable is citing the antivaxer quack, Naomi Wolf, to make your antivax point in a previous thread. She’s a conspiracy theorist promoting proven false vaccine information. Once you’re in that camp, you have zero credibility, as you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      • “I think that even you would agree that exemptions should be given for any vaccine or injection if such interventions were not held to the same long-term safety tests and standards as any drug set to market. Is that not completely reasonable?”

        Yes. That is completely reasonable.
        Anyone who sees the actual contracts between countries and Pfizer regarding the conditions of sale and (zero) liability for the company providing the jabs is horrified. These contracts have been revealed on various online platforms.

        Futhermore, there was obviously zero quality control in the manufacturing of the jabs.

        • Ignorant comment. If you don’t like EUA (emergency use authorization). Then don’t take the vaccine. Fully approved vaccines are just that. Same standard as all vaccine approvals. Just a uniformed comment. You really believe there were no controls in the massive research efforts? Again. Where on earth do you get your info. Completely wrong.

          • Susan, that’s the point. People did not have the option NOT to take the covid vax. If it were only that simple.
            Katherine, so very impressed with your well thought out and articulate posts. Your voice is not only appreciated but needed.

        • Katherine– your comment is indicative of the
          problems created by dishonest and misleading
          websites. Even intelligent people such as
          yourself can get sucked into the echo chamber.
          Most of your comment is demonstrably false.
          The rest is opinion.

      • John–for once we agree- exemptions should be given for any vaccine or injection if such interventions were not held to the same long-term safety tests and standards as any drug set to market.
        I totally agree…
        Ivermectin, injecting bleach into your veins
        and a wide variety of drugs promoted
        by snake oil salesmen and right wing
        wacko nut cases should have exemptions.
        As I have said before– I am all in with letting
        the dumbest in our society improve the
        genetic pool.

      • John– I agree that “exemptions should be given
        for any vaccine or injection if such interventions
        were not held to the same long-term safety tests
        and standards as any drug set to market.”
        I would never consider taking a shot that was
        not thoroughly vetted and tested. ( although
        I did participate in the clinical trials of the
        lyme vaccine).
        I educated myself to the processes that were
        put into place during “operation warp speed”
        and was satisfied that the government at the
        time did its due diligence to insure the COVID
        vaccine was safe and effective.
        Ivermectin has not met that standard, by the
        way. I really don’t care what some 45 year old
        guy says from his mother’s basement and
        posts it on rumble.

    • “So let the idiots improve
      the genetic pool and let their kids die.”

      This is a disgusting comment.

      • Katie–I agree– it’s disgusting.
        Am I not entitled to my opinion ?
        I believe in evolution, and the survival
        of the fittest.
        In these times, that means survival of
        the less stupid.
        I think it’s disgusting to put your kids at
        risk for any disease.
        I am sure you can find all sorts of videos
        on rumble that would be against kids having
        to be in a car seat.
        And I wouldn’t have any sympathy for a parent
        whose kid died in a minor car accident either.

        • Whether you sympathize with the adults is not my concern, Don. The remark I quoted isn’t just about the parents. You made this about genetically inferior children, as if their deaths would somehow be more acceptable because they come from families you deem undesirable.

          That’s vile.

          Poor Darwin. Folks have been bastardizing his work to justify warped viewpoints since forever and a day. Opinions on vaccines are not an inherited trait. Those beliefs are environmental. Acquired. As with other medical topics, they can and do shift between generations. Or even within the same person. You have no way of knowing how any child will come to view vaccines or behave in the future, yet you’re devaluing them in the present. That’s the failure in critical thinking as I see it.

          Do you not get how arrogant that is? Some might even call it stupid. Or worse. Far worse.

          Kids and their parents have been known to disagree on a wide variety of issues. Vehemently so. Yeah, the family unit can be a belief-forming factor, but it’s not the lone influence. Especially not in the age of the internet. I’d guess many who are anti-vaccine have adopted that stance through the input of strangers. That’s what I’ve witnessed on repeat.

          As for inherited intelligence, how many American families are at odds because of the political & cultural divide? How many people who share your exact beliefs have relatives who don’t? Are they expendable, too? Stupid, to your way of thinking, by association? Just goes to show that using sins-of-the-father logic to write off others is twisted. Children are innocent and bear zero responsibility for the decisions of adults. Any time a child dies of preventable disease, or in a car accident, it should be regarded as a horrible tragedy of equal proportion.

          Not just when it happens to those whose caretakers you approve of.

          Such tolerance. Such compassion.

          I cannot stand destructive individuals who drive recklessly—after drinking, while high, while distracted—but it would never cross my mind to lump their kids in with them. Those kids need extra concern from outsiders. From me. They’re at the mercy of the very behaviors I object to.

          They’re not lesser human beings due to genes. But I sure would be an indecent woman if I painted them as such.

          • katie– I agree that and needless death of
            any child is a horrible tragedy.
            I also am not saying anyone is a
            “lesser human being”. There are plenty of really
            stupid people with low IQ’s . I am in no way
            regarding them as “lesser”.
            But, over time intelligence has been the dominant
            factor in the ability of humans to survive.
            That intelligence comes from somewhere.
            Humans are (we think) smarter than the apes
            we evolved from. Do you think that just happened
            by coincidence ? It is my opinion that the smarter
            humans survived. The less intelligent, and their
            children didn’t. Pretty simple concept.
            And while we are talking about genetic
            selection, how about this ?
            The concept of “muscle cars” appealed to
            aggressive young men who died in them
            before they could reproduce. Yup–
            I’m saying that ridiculously fast cars have,
            in the long run made our society less
            aggressive. And each death was a tragedy.
            No question about that. And they were

  2. The Orthodox Jewish community at large does not show resistance to vaccines. The resistance is only among an ultra orthodox, extremist sect.

  3. Herd immunity needs to be 95%. I hope these misinformed and ill-informed anti-vaxers get a good look at the disfigured babies who are victims of congenital rubella syndrome born to mothers who contracted Rubella while pregnant, if they are born at all rather than miscarried or still born. Get a good look at these or go sit with parents at their children’s funerals because of a runaway measles outbreak. Maybe your child will be in that grave because of your cockeyed sentiment. Vaccines save lives and prevent needless suffering!

      • Don, the reason why gun manufacturers are not responsible for deaths from their products is because the gun operated as designed. If Pharma on the other hand introduces a vaccine that does not perform as promised and causes harm they should be held accountable and should not be afforded protections from their malfeasance.

        • Carl– I find your argument quite logical and
          difficult to counter.
          But let me try.
          So let’s look at a hypothetical situation,
          such as you are speaking about in your comment.
          LET’S SAY i bought a gun to protect myself
          and my family from all those evil people we hear
          about . And one day one or more of those evil people
          ( presumably illegals or people of color) try to break
          into my house and i try to shoot them but the gun
          jambs and does not perform as promised
          — should I be able to sue the company
          that made the gun if the robbers take my stuff and
          kill my wife ?

          • Yes, and you can. Many gun manufacturers have been sued just for that.


            The New Jersey State Police had to sue SigSaur and won for providing faulty firearms. They now carry Glocks.

            Think of firearms like cars. If Ford has a faulty product they are responsible for their car if they provided a faulty product. They can recall it and fix it as remedy but they will be on the hook for and damages as a result. However, if the owner did not take care of the vehicle like replacing brakes then Ford would not be responsible but owner would be liable for operating an unsafe vehicle.

            I’ll take it a bit further. We have to carry insurance to drive maybe we should be able to carry insurance for firearms.

        • Carl– another reasonable rebuttal to
          my comment. Thank you !
          I certainly agree with insurance for firearms.

    • The old “vaccine injury” fallacy. Please show us a link supported by verifiable data that states how many people are injured by vaccines as a percentage of the total dosages administered.

  4. If Big Pharma was responsible for vaccine injury or death there would be no vaccines.
    Just more dead people.
    Make vaccine manufacturing unprofitable, there will be none.

  5. I think it’s a safe bet that many island parents who claim a religious exemption are not religious to any real extent. They use it as a get of jail card to support their ill conceived ideas about science.

    • There are very few religious sects that actually
      prohibit their followers from getting vaccinated.
      Certainly not Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism ,
      Islam, or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
      When these people apply for a religious exemption,
      do they have to list what religion they are so devoutly
      adhering to ?

  6. Don, I’m replying to you here because the little button disappeared up-thread.

    About survival of the fittest: I just think it’s often more complicated than that. I know you are very passionate about improving the environment/climate. A solid percentage of the younger generations have taken up that responsibility and voted in favor of its protection. But some (many) have parents who think any effort towards good stewardship is worthless; who will not change a single habit.

    Without the support of their kids, national efforts would not have progressed as much. Within one or two generations, you can have a shift that (I assume) you would consider smart and beneficial. My guess is that this involves more than DNA. There’s the interplay of social ideas to consider.

    How people come to make stupid decisions is more complex than it looks IMO. Yes, there are DNA-driven impulses, you could say. Often the product of hormones. But there’s also what happens to or around someone throughout their life that influences their thinking process; that dictates which genes decide to actually switch on. Expression is not proof of limited potential. That’s a lot harder to assess at a glance and isn’t something I would put on the shoulders of children; their kids could have different experiences and thus better judgment.

    Or sometimes that better judgment may even be a product of—not in spite of—living with said foolish parent. Witnessing bad behavior can be a great warning to do the opposite. Poof, you get a person who is actually inclined to be *more* responsible than your average bear. Because they’re hyperaware of what fresh hell the other approach brings.

    Evolution is usually considered through looking at great stretches of time because a localized view may miss something vital. So it is with redeeming people.

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