I’m a limited-government girl and also an “I Hate the Nanny State” girl. I believe in maximum parental choice in raising kids on almost every issue: schools (including homeschooling), sex ed, “free-ranging,” and keeping guns in the house. I even believe in the right of parents to choose to do stupid, children-endangering things, such as birthing those children while sitting in a wading pool in one’s living room under the supervision of a self-trained midwife whose idea of local anesthesia is chanting Vedic sutras.
But there’s one area where I absolutely disagree with the principle of parental choice—or at least I think it should be restricted to an area the size of a pinkie fingernail: getting your kid vaccinated against highly communicable and potentially deadly diseases. I don’t care if this puts me on the same side as Nancy Pelosi, the Daily Kos—or even Satan. Refusing to allow your kids to be vaccinated, whether it’s because you still buy into the long-discredited theory (based on fraudulent studies) that vaccines cause autism, or whether you merely hate the idea of an elite class telling you what to do, doesn’t just put your own child at risk. It puts other people at risk. Lots of other people: pregnant women, babies too young to be vaccinated, people young and old who have a serious medical condition that bars them from tolerating vaccines, and adults born before the dawn of vaccines who lucked out and never got the diseases in question. And, of course, the children of your fellow anti-vaxxers as well.
I’m not talking about forcing children to be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus, which is transmitted only through sex and to which socially conservative parents might object on the ground that it covertly encourages sex. Nor am I talking about flu shots, which are literally shots the dark, reflecting epidemiologists’ educated guesses about what strain of flu virus will be going around this winter.
I’m talking about once-common diseases for which vaccines were developed decades ago that were so effective that they all but eradicated those diseases until recently: diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps, and rubella. There is no excuse whatsoever—unless there’s a serious medical condition, or possibly a serious religious objection at stake—for not having your kids vaccinated against them.
Measles is a serious disease. Granted, most people live through the two weeks of super-high fever and (in my case when I was a kid in pre-vaccine days) an inability to tolerate light that can mean lying in bed with the shades down for days on end. But mothers stricken with measles can deliver premature babies, and every year about 500 Americans died of the disease prior to the development and widespread use of the vaccine. Across the world, measles still takes more than 145,000 lives each year, many of them children. Some patients are already weakened by other diseases or their treatments. Read here about 6-year-old leukemia patient Rhett Krawitt, whose chemo treatments have compromised his immune system to the point where he can’t tolerate vaccines—so his parents are begging other parents to please get their own kids vaccinated in order to protect their son.
Furthermore, measles is highly infectious. The virus is airborne (spread through coughs and sneezes), it lives for more than two hours after exposure, and 90 percent of people who are exposed but not immunized get the disease. So I think it’s perfectly fine for governments (preferably at the state and local level) to more or less force children to be vaccinated. Unvaccinated children shouldn’t be in public-school classrooms, or in any other classrooms or public places. If parents want to exercise their parental choice not to vaccinate their kids, fine. Just keep those kids at home 24/7. Vaccination is not a parental-rights issue. It’s a public-health issue.