There are certain things we do as an advanced, civilized society to protect our children: We require that if they are transported in a car, they must be strapped into in a car seat; they must wear a helmet when they ride a bicycle; they can’t be made to work in sweat shops; they’re not allowed to drink alcohol; they’re legally protected from sexual molestation.
And, if we’re lucky enough to have developed a vaccine for various deadly or life-threatening diseases, they are immunized as early as possible.
The only people who would violate any of these kinds of social strictures are those who hold some other values higher than the safety of our children and the survival of the species.
They are self-absorbed, uneducated or willfully ignorant. They choose not to understand that their decision to violate these kinds of norms not only endanger their children, but threaten other people, especially other children who are not their own.
Bad Parental Choices In some communities (we name no names, Marin and Orange counties), gluten-free, breatharian liberals or live-free-or-die government haters will go to court to prevent children from bringing allergy-inducing peanuts into the school lunchroom while refusing to have their own children vaccinated against measles, mumps or whooping cough.
“Parental choice” is their banner; hypocrisy is their manner.
So, in the wake of an outbreak of measles in Disneyland and about 100 cases of the dangerous disease now reported in California (far more than panic-inducing Ebola), it makes sense that Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica have introduced legislation in Sacramento to eliminate the “personal-belief exemption” that allows parents to refuse to inoculate their children merely because they are philosophically opposed to immunizations.
Children with a valid medical reason for not being vaccinated, would still be exempted.
“We do not need to wait for a child to sicken or die before we act. And that’s what we’re doing here today,” Pan told a Capitol news conference
California’s U.S. Senators are also on the case.
“While a small number of children cannot be vaccinated due to an underlying medical condition, we believe there should be no such thing as a philosophical or personal-belief exemption, since everyone uses public spaces,” Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein wrote in a letter to California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley. “As we have learned in the past month, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate.”
First Grandma Steps Up Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton joined the fray last week, tweeting:
That was at least in part in reaction to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both of whom – in an apparent attempt to straddle the gap between modern science and know-nothing, anti-Big Brother libertarians — issued statements that essentially said, “Sure vaccines are good, but parents ought to have control.”
So now they’re pro-choice? Who knew?
The whole “personal exemption” thing in California has gotten out of hand and demands reform. Thanks to an excellent wrap-up by Lisa M. Krieger and Jessica Calefati at the Mercury News, we know that:
Vaccine exemptions have been available since 1961, when California first required all public school teachers and students to be inoculated against polio. But there has been a surge in their popularity in recent years. From 2000 to 2014, the rate of parents seeking exemptions tripled, from 0.77 percent to 2.5 percent — or one in every 40 kids. California is one of 19 states that allow exemptions based purely on parents’ personal beliefs.
“An exemption is something we can only allow under the condition where it very rarely is exercised,” said Stanford University’s David Magnus, a professor of pediatrics who directs the Center for Biomedical Ethics. “The fact that there has been so much misuse means it is time to tighten things.”
How Best to Fight Idiocy We know young mothers who are afraid to take their children to mothers’ groups because they have no idea whether some self-absorbed parent is toting a little one who’s carrying measles or some other highly-contagious disease. After hearing about nearly 200 children who were exposed to Disneyland measles at one urgent care center in Mesa, AZ, lots of parents are now afraid to take their kid to the pediatrician’s office.
There’s a debate among pro-vaccination people about how best to deal with the anti-vaxxers. Some, like Dr. Saad B. Omer, argue:
For epidemiologists like me, eliminating exemptions may seem satisfying, but it is not the wisest policy for protecting kids. Instead, we should borrow a concept from behavioral economics, and use administrative rules and procedures to “nudge” parents to immunize their kids, rather than trying to castigate or penalize these parents.
On the other hand, writers like Matt Novak argue that the anti-vaccination movement, if not the individuals, should be ridiculed (like the Ku Klux Klan or anti-gay marriage forces have been) because shame works.
Given that there is absolutely no scientific basis on which to base their beliefs, it would seem that ridicule is not a bad strategy.
In case you forgot, here’s part of a New York Times piece recounting just how discredited is the notion of a link between vaccinations and other maladies:
It turns on a seminal moment in anti-vaccination resistance. This was an announcement in 1998 by a British doctor who said he had found a relationship between the M.M.R. vaccine — measles, mumps, rubella — and the onset of autism.
Typically, the M.M.R. shot is given to infants at about 12 months and again at age 5 or 6. This doctor, Andrew Wakefield, wrote that his study of 12 children showed that the three vaccines taken together could alter immune systems, causing intestinal woes that then reach, and damage, the brain.
In fairly short order, his findings were widely rejected as — not to put too fine a point on it — bunk. Dozens of epidemiological studies found no merit to his work, which was based on a tiny sample. The British Medical Journal went so far as to call his research “fraudulent.” The British journal Lancet, which originally published Dr. Wakefield’s paper, retracted it. The British medical authorities stripped him of his license.
So, anti-vaxxers, shame on you.