An Oakland County Circuit Court judge sentenced a woman Wednesday to seven days in jail for refusing to comply with a court order to vaccinate her child.
Rebecca Bredow of Ferndale was given a week in jail for refusing the order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son. A judge previously ordered Bredow to have the boy vaccinated by Wednesday.
“It’s clear to me you don’t care about (court) orders, even if you agree to them,” Judge Karen McDonald told Bredow during her contempt of court hearing Wednesday in Pontiac. “You’ve repeatedly stated over the past several days publicly that you will not follow this court order, so I’m sentencing you to seven days in jail.”
McDonald also awarded the father of Bredow’s son temporary custody of the boy while she is incarcerated and until all of the child’s vaccinations are up to date.
It’s a new twist in an ongoing debate over vaccinations in Michigan and across the country. Some parents fear vaccinations could cause autism in children, a theory that’s been debunked by scientists. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine have concluded there is no relationship between vaccines and autism rates in children.
Public health officials blame the the anti-vaccination movement for a rise in U.S. cases of whooping cough, measles and other communicable diseases. The CDC said declining vaccination rates played a role in a 2015 measles outbreak that started at Disneyland and spread to 14 states, including Michigan.
Bredow, a mother of two, addressed the court and said she was a “passionate mother who cares deeply about her children, their health and their well-being.”
She also defended her decision to not vaccinate her son.
“This order has taken on a life of its own and it’s my fault that I didn’t stand up sooner and explain to the court that I am an educated, vaccine-choice mother and that I have signed vaccine waivers and have been fully compliant with Michigan state laws for both of my children for every school year,” Bredow read from a statement. “If my child is going to be forced to be vaccinated, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It goes against my beliefs, your honor.”
She also told the judge that she and her ex-husband originally held the same beliefs on vaccinations for the children, but she claimed he recently changed his mind to get leverage in their ongoing legal custody battle.
McDonald stopped Bredow before she could finish her statement and told her the claims were not true, based on the judge’s review of the case and its legal transcripts.
“You agreed in a consent order to vaccinate your child,” the judge said. “I understand you love your children, but what I don’t think you understand is that your son has two parents and dad gets a say.”
Michigan has reported 504 cases of pertussis this year. Also known as whooping cough, the infection can cause serious illness in babies, children, teens and adults. About half of cases in babies under age 1 require hospitalization, according to the CDC.
There also have been two cases of measles, 37 confirmed or suspected cases of mumps, and 353 cases of chicken pox this year, according to state health officials. All can be prevented with vaccinations.
Fewer parents are obtaining waivers to exempt their children from vaccinations since the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services adopted a new educational requirement in 2015. Parents who want a waiver have to report to their local health department for an informational session about vaccines.
Waivers decreased from 20,554 in 2014, the year before the rule was adopted, to 12,887 in 2015, and 13,207 in 2016, according to state data.
“Prior to implementing the education requirement, 4.8 percent of the children reported for a school had an immunization waiver on file,” health department spokeswoman Angela Minicuci said Wednesday. “That percent dropped to 3.2 percent for last year, which represents a 33 percent decrease in immunization waiver rates for the children reported.”
The hearing Wednesday drew a few protesters outside of the courthouse supporting Bredow.
Melissa Soloman, 38, of Macomb Township, was among them. She had her 16-month-old son, Carter, with her.
Soloman said she has nothing against people who vaccinate their children, but she has chosen not to vaccinate her son.
“Personally, I don’t feel that the judge should be able to rule on this case,” Soloman said. “She has biases that could have affected her decision. The mother should never have to go to jail. There’s a lot of things wrong with this entire case.”
Michigan for Vaccine Choice issued a statement about the judge’s ruling Wednesday afternoon.
“As the primary caregiver of the child, it is unfortunate Rebecca’s objections on this matter have not been adequately represented or enforced,” said Joel Dorfman, a spokesman for Michigan for Vaccine Choice.
“Unfortunately, should the child experience any harm from the eight vaccines at once, the fact is Rebecca will be the only one left to care for that child, not the father, the judge, or the doctor.”