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Rebecca Bredow, 40, of Ferndale, spent 5 days in jail for refusing a court order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son.
John Wisely/Detroit Free Press

A father embroiled in a legal fight with his ex-wife over whether or not to vaccinate their 2-year-old daughter said he considers vaccines a life-and-death issue.

Michael Schmitt testified for more than two hours Tuesday before Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald, telling her that he wants the girl vaccinated because it can “save her life.”

“There are people around the world who are dying because they don’t get vaccines that we get easily,” said Schmitt of Troy. “I’ve been to parts of the world where these diseases still exist.”

Closer to home, Schmitt said he’d read recently about cases of measles and Hepatitis A being found in Metro Detroit so he wants his daughter protected.

Schmitt’s ex-wife, Lori Matheson of Walled Lake, testified last month that she opposes vaccinating the child for religious and philosophical reasons. She has asked McDonald to allow genetic testing on the child, which she said could help identify a predisposition to adverse reactions to vaccines.

McDonald didn’t rule on the request, saying she wanted to hear expert testimony on the testing and what it can predict.

Schmitt said that when the couple was married, they attended church together and Matheson never voiced religious objections to vaccines. He didn’t name his church, but said that it has no policy precluding vaccines.

“To go on mission trips with the church, you have to get additional vaccinations,” Schmitt testified. Schmitt added that he considers getting vaccinated a moral thing to do, not only for himself and his daughter, but also for the community at large.

When a large percentage of the population is vaccinated, Schmitt said, diseases are less likely to be transmitted to the small percentage of people who can’t be vaccinated because of medical reasons like immune systems weakened by chemotherapy.

“It’s an opportunity to love my neighbors as myself and protect them,” Schmitt said.

Mom jailed

The Schmitt case is the second one in recent weeks to end up in McDonald’s court.

Rebecca Bredow, 40, of Ferndale served five days in jail last month for failing to follow McDonald’s order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son. 

Like Matheson and Schmitt, Bredow is divorced from the boy’s father, James Horne. The couple is fighting over whether or not to have the child vaccinated.

McDonald said that Bredow had agreed in November to follow a pediatrician’s advice on immunizations and she held Bredow in contempt when she wouldn’t do it.

Bredow’s attorney, Clarence Dass, now disputes that, saying Bredow never agreed to that provision, which was included in court filings by a lawyer who no long represents Bredow.

When Bredow appeared in court after her release, she learned that her son had been given two vaccinations while in his father’s custody.

National debate

Vaccines prompt emotional debate across the country. Public health professionals overwhelmingly champion them as a prevention tool that has saved millions of lives.

“Vaccines have reduced – and in some cases eliminated – many diseases that killed or severely disabled people in previous generations, such as measles, diphtheria, mumps, whooping cough, smallpox and rubella,” said Robert Wheaton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Vaccines are safe, effective and benefit everyone.”

A 2011 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reviewed more than 1,000 research articles on the topic and concluded that “few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines” and that “the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism.”

The report acknowledged that “vaccines are not free from side effects, ‘or adverse effects,’ but most are very rare or very mild.”

Contact John Wisely: 248-858-2262 or jwisely@freepress.com. On Twitter @jwisely

 

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