A Modest Proposal for Those Who Won’t Vaccinate

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about the “free range” parenting movement. You know what’s of far greater concern? The vaccine-free parenting movement. I’m not bothered by a free range kid who walks home from the park alone. But vaccine-free kids who show up at the park without the immunizations that protect them against measles, mumps and other childhood diseases? That’s a real worry.

Because here’s the thing: anti-vaccine parents (also known as anti-vaxxers) not only put their own kids at risk, they put ours at risk too–particularly those who are truly too young or too sick to get the vaccine. Measles is crazy contagious. NPR just reported there are now 88 confirmed cases of measles linked to a December outbreak of the disease at Disneyland. Most of the cases are in California and most of those infected were not vaccinated. Equally bad news: 88 is probably not the final number.

Wired.com wrote a great piece on the measles outbreak at Disneyland. One of the things I learned: measles is so contagious, of 100 people who aren’t vaccinated, about 90 will get infected. Even if you are fully vaccinated, you still have a 3 percent chance of contracting the highly contagious illness (I’ll take a 3 percent odds of measles over 90 percent any day). Equally worrisome: the infected can carry the illness back to their communities, their schools, and their parks.

At special risk: babies and young children not fully immuized due to their age. And kids like Rhett Krawitt, who can’t be immunized because his immune system is still rebuilding from battling leukemia for most of his six years. In an effort to protect him, Rhett’s parents have asked  the Marin County (CA) school district to require immunization as a condition of attendance, with exceptions for those who cannot medically be vaccinated. That’s an important distinction: there are children who can’t get vaccines for real medical reasons–not just because their parents don’t like vaccines.

Rhett’s family is offering a serious response to a serious illness. According to the CDC, measles is a highly infectious, acute viral illness that can be complicated by severe pneumonia, diarrhea, and encephalitis. It can result in death. Can you imagine watching your child survive leukemia and then have to battle measles because some parents refused to avail their children (seven percent of Rhett’s school) of a readily available and effective vaccine? Epidemiologists warn that once vaccination levels dip below 90 or 95 percent, there aren’t enough protected people to keep the disease in check—also known as herd immunity. We like herd immunity, it protects the weakest and the youngest.

Doubts about vaccine safety and limited understanding of the diseases they protect against are two commonly cited reasons for refusing to vaccinate. (A claim that by Andrew Wakefield that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine could cause autism was found to be fraudulent by the British Medical Journal in 2011.) Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, notes that:

We have roomfuls of evidence showing that vaccines are some of the safest medications available, but rumors and conspiracy theories still spread. Young parents today haven’t seen these diseases, and they don’t respect and fear them.

Unfortunately, parents may start seeing more of these diseases. The CDC reported 66 cases of measles in the entire United States in 2005. Ten years later, a single case at Disneyland has led to 88 cases and counting. The Wired.com story ended on this ominous note: “2014 was a banner year for the measles: 635 US residents were infected, more than the past four years combined. Without a change, those numbers will keep going up.”

So what changes can we make to keep the numbers from going up? This is where the anti-vaccine movement has a lot of power. It’s in the best interest of all children to vaccinate.

There is another option. If you still refuse to vaccinate, maybe it’s time to self-quarantine. It can’t be that hard–you can order in your groceries (delivered at a safe distance) and home school your children. Heck, why not go a step further and organize an anti-vax village? Gated of course, to keep you in and us out. You could grow your own fruit and veg. Run your own schools. You can have anti-vaccine conferences right there in the village.

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does. No one should have to isolate their kid. Nor should parents of vulnerable children like Rhett have to worry about measles, eradicated in our country just fifteen years ago. The bad news for Rhett and children like him who are medically fragile: they don’t have much choice when it comes to immunizations. The good news: most parents do have a choice. And parents in the anti-vaccine movement have the power to impact the lives of countless children by making the right choice.

Choosing whether or not to vaccinate is not the same thing as choosing whether to be a free range parent, or choosing organic versus non-organic milk or public versus private school. Parents facing those choices do so knowing they impact one child: their own.

In contrast, the decision to not vaccinate your child can impact the health of many children. In the name of children like Rhett and our common humanity (and with the backing of strong scientific research), please vaccinate. It’s the right thing for all our kids. It’s time.

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11 Responses to A Modest Proposal for Those Who Won’t Vaccinate

  1. mom January 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    Hi, honey,

    Good research job and a lot of passion with reasoned judgment. Larry Wilmore (Colbert’s replacement) did a segment on Tuesday’s Nightly Show on the issue if you have the means to get it.

    • Kristin O'Keefe January 29, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      Watched it on-line, well done. The mistrust of government on the part of anti-vaccine group was clearly a theme (with some historical backing). However, the issue is so heavily weighted to medical professionals and scientists (not to mention distraught parents), change has to happen. Or there should be consequences.

      • Michael Jones February 24, 2015 at 11:56 pm #

        I was so PRO-VACCINE until I did my own research into the ingredients. I think it is very important to know what is being pumped into a child’s bloodstream, I believe it is a parents right to know how vaccine’s work and what exactly is in vaccines to make them work. Does anyone here really know how vaccines work? Anyone here heard of a carbohydrate-protein conjugate vaccine? Anyone out ever studied adjuvants and why they are used in vaccines? Anyone here know why it is ILLEGAL to sue a vaccine manufacturer if your child get’s a bad dose of vaccine or has an bad reaction? I used to react emotionally to people who did their own research and thought for themselves, until I did my own research. I started asking the Doctor ordering the shots, and they didn’t know what was in them. They just said that there was a bunch of research, etc. I think everyone should know exactly what is in the liquid being pumped into children. It can’t hurt to be informed? Right.

  2. Laura Richardell January 29, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    Well said Kristin! Selfish idiots who do this.

  3. Andrea Brenner January 29, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    Great thoughtful piece

  4. Elise Lipoff Mayer January 29, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    I just heard a story on NPR’s The World about a sociological study done of attitudes toward vaccinations in America and Sweden. In America, the anti_vaccine parents see it as a choice – same as free speech. In Sweden, vaccinations are seen as part of the greater good to help protect vulnerable children as you mentioned as well as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Maybe we can learn something from Sweden. Well done, Kristin!!

    • Kristin O'Keefe January 29, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

      Absolutely. See my friend Sarah Jones’ post with the Dalai Lama quote: “Our own survival is so dependent on the help of others that a need for love lies at the very core of our existence. This is why we need to cultivate a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.” That’s the lovely way to say it. We owe each other that: love, compassion and protecting our world’s vulnerable.

  5. Sarah Jones January 29, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    This issue definitely makes my blood boil. In the U.S. too many “personal freedoms” have gone so far as to do real harm to the common good. I count immunizations among these, as well as the Second Amendment (I won’t even go there now).

    As the world gets smaller and the population gets bigger, we are going to have to give up more personal freedoms for our own survival. The Dalai Lama recently said, “Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Even tiny insects survive by cooperating with each other. Our own survival is so dependent on the help of others that a need for love lies at the very core of our existence. This is why we need to cultivate a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.” We WILL have to compromise some personal freedoms.

    Now would be a good time for everyone to read or re-read Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. It made a huge impression on me 30 years ago, and I will bet it becomes more and more relevant over time.

    • Kristin O'Keefe January 29, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

      Sarah, so well said. I love the Dalai Lama quote–You could write a great piece on this. Time to muster all our collective outrage and push back.

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