The ACLU of Rhode Island has urged the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) to reexamine a proposed regulation that would force children out of day care and childcare providers out of work if they are not vaccinated for the flu, even if they are unvaccinated for medical reasons. In testimony submitted to the DOH, the ACLU called the regulation a “serious intrusion on the ability of individuals and families to make their own medical decisions.”

The draft regulation, which was the subject of a recent public hearing, requires all children ages 6 to 59 months to be vaccinated for the flu or else be excluded from preschool or day care any time there is a so-called flu “outbreak.” Such regulation, ACLU Policy Associate Hillary Davis said in her testimony, stymies children’s education and imposes a significant burden on parents without benefiting public health in the long run.

Preventing children from attending preschool and day care during flu “outbreaks,” which the regulations do not define, could exclude children for weeks at a time every year. Such exclusion could cause students to fall behind developmentally and socially, and leave parents without quality day care options for their children.

The requirement that children as young as 6 months be vaccinated is particularly troubling, the ACLU said, because children this young may have undetected allergies to eggs, a protein in the flu vaccine. This forces parents to make uninformed decisions about their child’s health or keep their child out of day care.

“For tens of thousands of children who attend preschool or day care in Rhode Island, the Department of Health will effectively overrule the decisions of parents and family doctors on an annual basis, in favor of a vaccine with limited efficacy and no permanence,” Davis said. Unlike vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella, the efficacy of flu vaccines can vary significantly from season to season and provide no permanent protection. While acknowledging that encouraging vaccination against the flu is an important endeavor, Davis said “state intervention in the medical decisions of families must be limited and rare.” The proposed regulation would also affect every employee of the hundreds of preschools and daycare facilities throughout Rhode Island.

The ACLU also objected to another requirement in the proposed regulation that would bar from school any middle or high school student who is not vaccinated against HPV when an “outbreak” of the virus occurs, despite the fact that HPV is transmitted through sexual contact and therefore rather unlikely to be contracted in the classroom. While recognizing the efficacy of vaccinating teenagers against HPV, the ACLU argued that excluding students who are unvaccinated for any reason will have a negative impact on their education and unnecessarily stigmatize them.

The ACLU emphasized that its concerns involved the exclusionary consequences of the DOH proposal, not the agency's goal of encouraging these vaccinations. There is no specified timeframe for the Department of Health to act on the proposal.