It's Time for a Frank Discussion on Vaccinating: Don't Be a Jerk

It's Time for a Frank Discussion on Vaccinating: Don't Be a Jerk

Editor's Note: August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which coincides with the start of school; a time when many people think about vaccinations that are required by their district. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working this month to ensure that every child receives protection from life-threatening illnesses. Stacy, our editor-in-chief, penned this response to the anti-vaccination campaign last spring, and it's relevant this month too. --Mel

At the same time that Jenny McCarthy is learning that people are attracted to people who vaccinate their children, Kristin Cavallari is being hailed as the next Jenny McCarthy for her public statements on how vaccines cause autism. Meanwhile, back here on planet Earth—where opinions never turn into facts, no matter how fervently we believe, no matter how personal the loss or the triumph—the growing number of parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their children is in part responsible for a resurgence in diseases long laid almost to rest. We've got a measles outbreak in New York City and one in Canada, and a growing outbreak of mumps on the campus of Ohio State University. It's time to stop being polite and ask the hard question: Why are anti-vaxxers still risking the health of other children based on disproved pseudo-science to "save" their own children from the so-called horrors of autism?

We Really Need to Talk About VaccinationImage: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr Creative Commons

The truth is that there are almost no medical discoveries that have as much proof behind them as vaccines. This fact can be stated over and over and over again, the hundreds of studies can be cited, we can point out that vaccines are tested for 10 to 15 years before they are released until we are blue in the face. Scientific American summed up how best to "convince" unconvinced parents about the safety of vaccines thusly:

The key facts parents need to know, though, are that vaccines prevent potentially fatal diseases, that vaccines have a high degree of safety, and that their safety is constantly evaluated and reevaluated in a system operating independently from the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines.

In a country where the dollar and profit reign supreme, that last bit is a major accomplishment and achievement for any government, but perhaps especially America's. But we can't celebrate that massive achievement any longer, because the fact is that the anti-vaccination camp has been able to use fear-mongering to plant enough doubt that they have caused intelligent, caring parents to stop vaccinating. When you stop vaccinating, you lose herd immunity. When you lose herd immunity, you put other people—the too young, the pregnant, the immunocompromised—at risk. When you put other people at risk, making your own decisions about which odds will favor your family, you're not a brave parent protecting your child. You are a jerk. You're legally allowed to be a jerk based on religious, medical, or personal belief statements according to the state in which you live, but you're still a jerk.

Looking at the interactive map of vaccine preventable outbreaks since 2008 paints a colorful and scary picture of what the anti-vaccination camp has done to harm forward motion in helping protect the most vulnerable people in our population, because it's not those parents who will get the mumps or measles or pertussis. It is the old, the infirm, the sick, and the very, very young. In other words, someone else's precious child. And you know what? I do not think it is okay for you to decide that your child is worth more than some other person's child, no matter how much the personal math would make that true for you.

Interactive Map

Is the problem rooted in our terrific good fortune, as a people who have largely escaped the regular scourges and plagues that decimate populations in much of the rest of the world? Does no one remember AIDS? (Oh, wait, in our hyper-moral country, we decided those who got AIDS deserved it for their lifestyle "choices.") Have we lost just enough connection to the history of the devastation of measles and mumps that we think of them as benign illnesses, somehow less real than autism? Do you know that even previously healthy children who contract the measles have a 1 in 20 chance of then developing pneumonia? Did you know that 1 in 1,000 children will develop swelling of the brain which can result in convulsions, further putting their health at risk? Did you know children can die from measles? Did you know that mumps can result in deafness? Do you care? Do you realize that it's likely to be your own damn kid?

Yes, I understand that there are potential reactions to vaccines, which vary from vaccine to vaccine, but the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm or death, is, as the CDC says, "extremely small." Yes, I understand that it is hard to trust companies that make chemicals and drugs in our world right now. The Atlantic just published today a huge article on the effects of the poisons that have been in our environment for decades and the problems with regulating them; tellingly, vaccines are not mentioned.

Related Posts

Refusing to Vaccinate Leads to Outbreaks

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. I get it. The decision to vaccinate yourself or your child is a contentious subject. Stacy Morrison's post at the beginning of the month (or more specifically the comments it generated) proved that point. This conversation is important and the facts are important - even if it isn't (in some circles) popular. The comments section got very heated, and I think Stacy did a fantastic job of staying above the fray without backing down on her stance.   Read more >

Measles & Vaccines: Giving The Gift of Health

Despite the retraction and correction of the claim that the MMR vaccine had been linked to autism, popular support for vaccination has decreased and, coupled with recent measles outbreaks in Africa, Europe and India, the World Health Organization estimates that the fatalities will begin rising by 500,000 each year, completely destroying the progress that has been made against the disease since the 1980s by next year.   Read more >

How Vaccines Went from Life-Saving to Dangerous

It is very easy for us to forget how thoroughly modern medicine has changed our lives. We no longer have to fear for ourselves and our family as plague tears through the community. Infectious disease is no longer the main cause of death in America and Europe, as it once was. In large part we have to thank vaccination for this miraculous progress. So why do so many people continue feeling nervous about vaccines?   Read more >


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