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Why Vaccines Should Be Mandatory (Hint: Food Babe, Mercola, & Google U)

My colleague Erich recently wrote a superb post responding point-by-point to anti-vaccine nonsense at Modern Alternative Mama. He puts forth some solid arguments that I predominantly agree with. The main point on which we respectfully disagree:

“I also feel strongly that parents, not should, but MUST have the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate their children.”

He continues to say, “Inform yourself, then choose to vaccinate.” There is quite a bit of discussion on mandating vaccines in the comments section. I side with the seemingly extreme stance echoed among the comments: There should be a federal law mandating parents to have all recommended vaccinations administered to their children, on schedule. Bear with me while I explain why it’s not so extreme.

The reason we can’t trust people to inform themselves and make the right decision is simple: We live in a society where to some, “informing oneself” is as simple as consulting a search engine. Unfortunately, much of the American public is not savvy enough to vet internet sources for credibility. As we know, Google results are riddled with dangerous figures like Dr. Joseph Mercola, Food Babe, and myriad other non-experts with dubious, unscientific advice disguised as expertise. These seemingly believable websites tout detrimental information on “toxic” vaccines, so-called “natural immunity,” and the ridiculous idea that eating well is a better disease preventative than shots. For example, Food Babe states that formaldehyde is one of the scary ingredients that could be lurking in a vaccine vial. She goes on to say,

“I won’t eat any of these ingredients or even put them on my body – however, the mainstream medical community, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies suggest that I directly inject these ingredients into my bloodstream? And I need do it every year until I die?  Are you freaking kidding me? Long term effects of the combination of these toxic additives are very alarming – a very famous immunologist & geneticist has completed studies and research that shows in that every five flu shots a person receives over a ten year period they increase their risk of Alzheimer Disease by ten times! This is because of the ingredients above – Aluminum and Mercury – they slowly destroy your brain cells one by one.”

Really, Food Babe? You’ll never eat cauliflower, potatoes, or pears? All of these foods contain naturally-occurring formaldehyde. Furthermore, our bodies produce formaldehyde – it’s essential in the synthesis of certain amino acids. (Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, the basis for all bodily structures and functions.) Furthermore, she fails to link any sources in her diatribes, let alone reliable sources. So while pages like Food Babe’s might seem credible to some, they are simply pseudo-scientific drivel.

Let me be unmistakably candid: We cannot trust the public to make the right choices when Google U and the likes of Mercola and Food Babe are factoring more and more into enough of the public’s decision-making to ruin herd immunity.

When considering mandatory vaccines, some may conjure an image of an authoritarian state, in which vaccine refusers are forcibly led to an immunization clinic, with parents physically restrained while their children are injected. This doesn’t seem like the land of the free at all. (To be fair, I don’t believe Erich sees it this way.)

This image of forcibly administered vaccinations must never come true. Bodily autonomy is imperative in a democracy. In the view of most of the pro-compulsory vaccine camp including myself, bodily autonomy would still exist for parents and their children.

Highly unrealistic but amusing image
Highly unrealistic but amusing image

Currently, there are no federal vaccine laws. The FDA regulates vaccines to ensure safety and effectiveness, but states set their own requirements and exemption regulations. Some have stringent exemption approval processes, with exemptions only allowed for legitimate medical reasons. Others allow exemptions for ostensibly arbitrary philosophical or religious reasons. In my home state of Wisconsin a parent may receive a philosophical exemption without a doctor’s signature. The only repercussion is that the child “may be excluded from school if an outbreak of one of these diseases occurs.”

Wait! I’m sure I’m not the only one okay with this. First, the potential of the child being excluded from school if an outbreak occurs is not an adequate deterrent. To a parent seeking exemption, this is an intangible and honestly not very off-putting consequence. Even worse, it perpetuates the notion that herd immunity is everyone else’s responsibility. Victims of Special Snowflake Syndrome believe that their children are more unique and gifted than all of the average rugrats. Such exemption policies give these parents an easy out. “Why contaminate my all-natural, organic, GMO-free child with vaccines if I can get away scot-free with keeping their bodies pristinely pure?”

This doesn’t cut it for me. I’m not naïve; I know that it’s highly unlikely that the federal government will enact compulsory vaccine laws. Yet I don’t see what makes mandatory vaccines so different from compulsory health insurance coverage.

Here’s how mandatory vaccination should work on the most basic level. Similar to the Affordable Care Act, failure to adhere to the mandate would result in a fine. The fine would be either a flat amount, or a percentage of the parents’ income, whichever is higher. This penalty would serve:

  • To act as a tangible deterrent against vaccine refusal


  • To compensate society for the havoc wreaked by non-vaccinators in the form of reduced herd immunity and increased healthcare costs.


Once this is implemented for children, perhaps it should also apply to adults and booster shots. However, that’s a topic for another day.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the original Modern Alternative Mama post:

Unfortunately, a lot of harsh things are said when people are arguing about vaccines.  And it’s not okay anymore.  You guys hear me?  I’m declaring that over.  Right now.  Everyone is free to ask questions, share information, and debate respectfully, but no more rudeness.  No more shame.  Over!!

#1: “You don’t love your children if you don’t vaccinate.”


I agree with Erich that the decision not to vaccinate has no bearing on love for one’s children. Still, this is a rather narrow view. As I always say, good parents are empathetic, are their brothers’ keepers. Yes, parents choosing not to vaccinate likely love their children as much as their counterparts. But with basic understanding of concepts like herd immunity, one could never fail to vaccinate unless s/he has no love or even basic concern for anyone else. Because some parents don’t grasp science well, while others fall for pseudoscience, and yet others are plain selfish, I can’t condone leaving vaccination in the hands of the masses.


Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy is a mom of two, co-Executive Director of March Against Myths, public speaker, Forbes contributor and author in Madison, WI. She is also co-author of "The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House". Follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

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  1. *sigh*
    Love is not the END of parenting. Love is the BEGINING. A great lot of people make horrible decisions not because they don’t love their children, not in spite of loving their children, but exactly BECAUSE they love their children.

    1. True, misguided but loving decisions. The point I’m trying to make is that while love is obviously the most for one’s own family, to not have love for others is selfish and vice versa. Thinking that everyone else can do their part to uphold herd immunity is analogous to saying everyone should have to pay for their own food. Wait you can’t afford food? SOL.

  2. I agree with almost all of this, except the part about the fine. Many non-compliant parents will not be “all-natural” yuppies but poor people who don’t have access to good medical care or medical education. They will be the ones least able to pay the fine, while the yuppies will simply pay it and go on not vaccinating. A solution which hits poor people the hardest, and constrains their medical choices more than those of the rich, is not a good solution, in my opinion. The Affordable Care Act offsets its fines with increases in Medicaid funding and broadened eligability.

    I think we need to 1) offer vaccines for free, preferrably in school nurses’ offices, for kids who haven’t had them by the time they start school. Make them opt-out instead of opt-in, so that poor parents don’t have to actively do anything or pay anything to make them happen — as long as they don’t object, their kids get vaccinated. 2) For parents who do object, provide them with education. Cheapest option would be handing them a pamphlet, of course, but better would be requiring them to attend a meeting at the school with a medical professional who would be able to answer their questions and address their concerns. 3) At the most extreme, I am okay with saying unvaccinated kids cannot attend public schools, though maybe they should get a one year grace period to get the vaccines. Ideally if this happens, though, they should be able to enroll in a free online public school option (and a computer through which to access it) so that the parents’ ignorance does not prevent the kids from getting an education. But I really do believe it is dangerous to have crowds of unvaccinated kids mixing together every day from a public health perspective, so some kind of quarantine, though unfair to the kids, may really be necessary if the levels of vaccination continue to fall. This would also be a pretty powerful incentive for most parents, who appreciate the free childcare offered by public schools, to allow the vaccination.

  3. I actually know an anti-vax family that won’t vaccinate their son that makes sure to confirm that all of his caretakers are vaccinated. If that’s not narcissistically selfish, I don’t know what is. I’m not saying that all anti-vax parents are like that. But I suspect there is a decent percentage that is more than happy to endanger other children, all the while counting on the fact they’ll be protected because most children are vaccinated.

    1. This is a prime example of the “special snowflake syndrome” parents. Furthermore, the clearly believe themselves to be special/too good to have to comply with anything. Let the proles do things like be vaccinated…

    1. Vaccines are free here at the health department in Arkansas; but you do have to make an appointment, and you have to be able to transport yourself to the health department. (I know this because my kid, who has just returned to public school, needs a meningococcal vaccine!) The appointments that are available are all during the work day.

      Both of those things could easily be a barrier to working parents. I really like the idea of making vaccinations available at schools. Maybe at a clinic that is set up during registration at schools?

      1. That would be neat if they did a going back to school night, that included vaccinations for grade schools. My daughter’s school always has an evening set aside to not only visit the classroom and teacher but also there are a host of tables set up with community information. I think that a vaccination table available from public health would be awesome! Now I am going to have to poke into that and check. I don’t like the idea of vaccines simply offered during the school day as usually my daughter does have a mild fever and is sleepy following her vaccinations. But a planned event followed by sleeping would be cool.

        The headstart here at my city, absolutely have free vaccinations offered to those registering children for preschool. Little ones can be seen by a physician for a quick physical and all of it is free. They make a whole day available to families and children. They even do the blow-up playrooms and slides. It is really important as our city has a great number of people living in poverty that have limited education and limited access to medical care. It is a huge benefit to the entire community and is a popular event from what I have heard.

        1. I can only speak to my, admittedly well-off local school district, but over the course of 6 years of elementary school I can think of at least two times, and there may have been more, when they did vax clinics or otherwise offered them in the school. In 2009, when H1N1/Swine Flu was such a worry and not included in the original flu vax, they offered free shots in school. Then for rising 6th graders who are required to have a TDap booster for middle school, among the options of getting it from your regular pediatrician or at the health department, you could sign up for your kid to just get it at school – again, for free. I feel like there may have been at least one other time that they offered vaccination clinics free of charge in the school as well, probably for the purpose of catching up kids who’d fallen behind for whatever reason.

          All of which is to say, not only is a in-school free vax clinic possible, there are places that do it.

        2. I’m also pretty sure our county health department does vaccination fairs for anyone, along the lines of the Head Start program you describe, in an effort to keep rates high and the process at least not horrible.

  4. I do believe that vaccines should be free, especially if they were federally mandated. And yes, they should be offered in schools so that transportation doesn’t become a problem for lower-income families/working parents. I didn’t want to get into that issue in the post, just because it’s a multi-faceted conversation that might have changed the focus of the piece.

    mks.mary – as for the fine, I think the flat fee or percentage of income, whichever is more, would be fair. Alternatively, it could be a sliding scale based on income. That way it would be enough to deter the yuppies. 1% of a 6-8 figure income isn’t pocket change.

  5. Yes, I think that a lot could be done by offering free, low treshold vaccinations. Like in schools, and colleges and a vaccination truck on the goddamn market square.
    When I studied in Ireland they were trying to vaccinat everybody against Meningitis. They set up everything in the sports hall and you could just stop by.
    Well, actually, you could stand in line for 3 hours, but somehow, so many people were inclined to stand in line for 3 hours to get the vaccine that you had wait 3 fucking hours…

  6. In the US, all AFC Marketplace plans are required to cover at no extra charge all standard childhood vaccinations. There’s a whole list of what’s covered here:

    So, while certainly there is a non-zero number number of kids who are not vaccinated because their parents cannot afford it or because they just don’t realize that there are options out there, that doesn’t account for things like this:

    And frankly, that’s even more of an argument to me for why everyone who *can* be vaccinated, should be. Because there will always be people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons and kids who need to be caught up through public programs because they were only brought into the health care system through school.

    1. Em, right on. And truly, if vaccines were somehow miraculously mandated, they would have to be easily accessible and affordable or free. Only physicians would be able to grant medical exemptions. And doctors caught fudging documentation to build a practice with woo parent patients should be prohibitively heavily fined.

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