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.
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.