I want to open this by saying that I am in no way anti-vaccine. Ever. My children were vaccinated according to the schedule of the American Medical Association and advice of my pediatrician. Why? Because the known risks of death and horrible side effects of what used to be common childhood diseases far outweighed the supposed risks of autism from the vaccines. I am not a medical professional. My pediatrician certainly is. His knowledge trumps my lack of knowledge. Every. Time.
So I’ve never understood the anti-vaccine hysteria that swept through the country over the last decade or so. Especially after much of the “proof” was debunked. Personally I lump it in with those who see a conspiracy around every corner, and those hysterical over GMOs. But that’s another subject for another day!
The problem now? Since the herd immunity, the benefit that society gets when the majority of people are vaccinated against disease (a benefit that protects children that can’t be vaccinated, like newborn infants or children with compromised immune systems), has taken a serious hit, politicians are getting into the fray. They are trying to make the subject a political football that scores them major points with constituents. Just as bad as the anti-vaxxers.
For those who don’t know, here’s how we got here. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield released a paper which he claimed connected the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. Yes, it was published in a medical journal, but the medical community was never able to duplicate his supposed findings. Even worse, an ethics review of his work and subsequent paper found falsified data. That fraud was serious enough that not only was his paper retracted from the medical journal, but Wakefield’s medical license was revoked. But the nuts (think Jenny McCarthy) grabbed on and went to town. Damage done, here we are.
All of those diseases can be quite a bit more serious than the nuisance that the anti-vaxxers make them out to be. Measles, for instance, isn’t just “a few red spots” to be suffered through. Measles can kill. In 1980, before widespread vaccination was the norm, measles killed an estimated 5.6 million people, mostly children under the age of 5. Other serious complications include serious complications such as pneumonia (either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia), otitis media (which can lead to hearing loss or deafness), acute brain inflammation, and corneal ulceration (leading to corneal scarring and blindness).
Another disease that a vaccine was made for in the mid 1990’s is chicken pox. I had chicken pox. Nuisance? Sure. It was miserable. Complications range from bacterial infections of the skin, soft tissues, bones, joints or bloodstream (sepsis) usually from scratching, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), toxic shock syndrome , and Reye’s syndrome for people who take aspirin during chickenpox. Anyone who had chicken pox can get (and at least a third do) shingles. Shingles is a very painful secondary infection that surfaces years or decades later. I had it a few years back and wouldn’t wish that pain on ANYONE! Anyway, my son was probably two when the vaccine was released, so my pediatrician had me wait until it had a provable track record. But he later received it, as did my daughter. A decision rightly left between myself and our doctor.
Here’s my problem with politicians getting in the mix and talking about making laws requiring vaccination. Parents have the right to decide on their children’s medical care, including vaccines. They absolutely 100% can decide not to treat, vaccinate or otherwise deal medically with their children. We are always horrified at stories like the Pelletier family who had their child taken away because the state overstepped due to a disagreement over treatment. I don’t support writing laws requiring vaccinations. That is overstepping. Medical treatment of my child is between myself and my child’s doctor, period. And the Supreme Court agrees with me.
In 1925 in Pierce vs. Society of Sisters, which was a case over making public education mandatory and closing private schools, the Court ruled that states can’t make laws that “unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children.” They actually said “The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Someone please tell Melissa Harris-Perry. Translate that to medical care, an easy leap, and parents have the right to dictate the care of their children.
However, the state does have the authority to tell parents who refuse to vaccinate their children that they cannot put them in public schools. Most, if not all, school systems have requirements that children must have certain vaccinations, with few exceptions, before being allowed to attend. I agree wholeheartedly with that policy. Even vaccinated children can still get diseases they were vaccinated against, if their immune system is compromised or their immunity is only partial from the vaccine.
“But my kid has a right to an education!” they yell in response. Well, not quite. You, as a parent, have a responsibility to educate your child. There is no federal right, enshrined in the constitution, to a free, public education. States have to balance the responsibility of parents to educate their children, against the rights of all children to be protected from preventable diseases. Don’t want to vaccinate? Then homeschool.
Yes, I think you’re a nut if you believe that vaccinations are harmful to children. But that’s your choice. Just remember that your choice isn’t required to be foisted on my child. And politicians, remember that it’s not your place to foist your opinion on the nuts either!