Vaccinations have become an increasingly controversial topic, as more parents opt to not vaccinate their children or to delay key vaccinations. Most states, including Montana, provide for exemptions to vaccination requirements under certain circumstances. Taking advantage of this exemption carries consequences for pursuing medical malpractice claims, and you should be aware of the facts before making a decision.

The Vaccine Controversy

Sensational headlines about autism, and a growing, grass-roots movement toward more natural health alternatives, have led a number of parents to either delay getting some vaccines for their children or to refuse vaccinations altogether. Running counter to this has been a push from scientists and doctors insisting that there is no link between vaccines and autism or other childhood developmental disorders. Additionally, doctors point to recent measles outbreaks as evidence that many childhood diseases, once made extremely rare, may now return with devastating consequences.

Vaccination Exemptions in Montana

Like most states, Montana requires vaccination for children entering school, with regular updates to vaccinations for children entering later grades. Nevertheless, Montana also provides parents with exemptions under some circumstances.

Any child with a medical reason for not being vaccinated is exempt. This exemption could be because the child’s immune system is temporarily or permanently compromised, or the child has had an allergic reaction to a vaccine component or adverse reaction to a previous vaccination.
Montana does not allow, as some states do, any exemption due to philosophical objections to vaccines.

Religious objections are sustained by Montana and 47 other states. A form can usually be obtained from your local school that must be filled out for the child and presented to the school or preschool to exempt them from vaccine requirements. The form is very general and merely requires a statement that vaccinations violate the parent’s religious beliefs. The form also states that a penalty of up to $500 and up to 6 months in jail may result from falsely claiming the exemption. Also, in the event of an outbreak of one of the diseases covered, the child may be excluded from school. The form must be filled out, notarized, and presented to the school each year.

Repercussions for Medical Malpractice

In almost every case, the ultimate power of decision over medical treatment lies with the patient, or in the case of a minor, with their parent or legal guardian. Ultimately, it is up to the parent to make the medical decisions on behalf of their child that they feel will be the best choice for their health.

The pediatrician or treating physician does have an obligation to warn parents of the possible outcomes of any course of treatment and to present all the options. If your child becomes ill after rejecting a vaccination, and the doctor failed to warn you of the possible consequences of that course of action, they may be found negligent in a medical malpractice suit.

However, if the doctor presented the vaccinations as an option and described the risks for either taking or refusing the vaccination, there may be no grounds for a medical malpractice suit if your child later develops a disease that could have been prevented by the vaccine.