I’m getting sick at heart hearing about the spread of measles and now mumps. At one time, the United States was able to declare the eradication of these dangerous diseases, but no longer.
Unfortunately, the issue of refusing to vaccinate is one where nut jobs on the left and the right can find common ground. On the right, there is a persistent push to defend the rights of some parents to choose not to vaccinate their children. On the left, some parents who dream of a natural and organic life for their children and refusing to vaccinate. Across the political spectrum, some parents persist in their ill-informed belief that the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) cause autism in a tiny percentage of vaccinations. All three of these worldviews are flawed and dangerous.
One of the core beliefs of the far political right is that government should not trample on an individual’s rights. This argument is currently being used to defend some parents right to not vaccinate their children. However, what these folks fail to see is that their so-called right not to vaccinate their children tramples on the rights of others. Their own children have a fundamental right to life, and choosing not to vaccinate them puts them at risk for deadly and preventable diseases. Would we defend these same parents right to allow their toddlers to play with loaded handguns or matches? Do these parents have a right to choose to not use an infant car seat? Do these parents have a right to choose not to feed their children?
Additionally, these parents who choose to exercise their so-called right to not vaccinate their children are putting the lives of other people’s children at risk as well. Very young children and medically fragile children cannot get the MMR vaccine and depend on the rest of us for their safety. Not only are they trampling on the rights of their own children, but also the rights of other parents and other children. Even staunch conservative must acknowledge that an individual’s rights do not extend so far as to trample upon the rights of another. If they tried to argue that an individual’s rights are absolute, regardless of the consequences to others, then I have the right to drive through red lights and fire my gun into the air in the middle of town.
On the other hand, there are some parents on the political left who are myopically fixated on an imaginary past, where food was unprocessed, air was clean, and water was pure. They choose not to introduce man-made chemicals into their precious children’s bodies. They also chose to forget about cholera in the years before governments started to chlorinate drinking water. When I was living in Africa, some colleagues and I drove by a deserted village. I asked why there were no villagers. “The well went bad,” replied my friend, code for a cholera outbreak that killed everyone. In reality, the all-natural utopia these folks dream of is exactly that, “no place.” In the real world, before modern science and medicine, life expectancies were brutishly short and child mortality was tragically high.
Finally, the oft-quoted link between the MMR vaccine and autism is a complete myth and the so-called study that began this hysteria was proved fraudulent years ago.
Even if this false and vicious myth were true, it still baffles me why parents would put their children at a high risk of death in order to avoid a minuscule chance that their child might be developmentally disabled? Are these parents really so frightened of autism that they would rather see their children die and live with a disability? Is that belief not abuse, or at least criminal neglect? Again, let me make this crystal clear: these parents aren’t protecting their children from autism. The link between the MMR vaccine and autism is a complete lie. Rather, they are risking their child’s life to assuage their own misguided fears.
It’s time for us as a community to stand up to those individuals who are putting all of our children at a dangerous risk. The best place to do that important work is in our public school system. It’s time to begin mandating vaccines for all school children.